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How will taking a year off of medical school impact my Match prospects?

Our advice columnist answers a DO’s question about burnout and changing jobs and a student’s question about taking a break from medical school.


When pondering your way forward in medicine—whether you’re a student considering which elective rotations to pursue or a mid-career physician thinking about changing jobs—it’s always a good idea to seek out the guidance of those who have come before you.

In this quarterly column, I answer questions from DOs and students about succeeding in medical school, residency and beyond. For this month, I am answering a DO’s question about pursuing a new job because of burnout and a student’s question about taking a year off of medical school.

A little about me: I’m the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), where I also oversee NYIT’s College of Osteopathic Medicine. In my career, I’ve also served as a hospital chief medical officer, emergency department director, residency program director and emergency medicine physician.

I welcome questions from our DO and medical student community about anything related to success in medicine. Please send your questions to You can also reach me on Twitter @JerryBalentine and on Instagram @jerry.balentine. I look forward to engaging with you.   

“I am considering taking a year off of medical school. Would that be a problem when it comes time for the Match?”

As in many cases, this question has more than one answer, depending on your circumstances. First, why do you want to leave medical school for a year? Although there are multiple reasons, I like to categorize them into three groups:

1. “I have a family emergency/personal crisis I need to attend to, and I don’t think I can balance medical school with these responsibilities.”

In this case I always urge students (if they can) to take a few days before they make this decision. Make sure you meet with the other people involved (family/spouse/partner) and talk it through. Then get some insight from a mentor or counselor.

If you come to the conclusion that you need the time, then review the student handbook to get familiar with the school’s policy and meet with the appropriate person at your medical school (probably the associate dean for student affairs or a similar position). They should be receptive and supportive.

For your future career milestones, such as the match, job applications and medical boards, you should prepare a well-organized explanation of the circumstances.

2. “I have a great opportunity that will make me a better physician.”

Maybe you were offered a research year that will help you finish a project you started as an undergraduate or you were given the opportunity to volunteer and stay at a remote clinical site for a year. In these cases, you should go through the first few steps of getting input and advice as above.

If you then take advantage of such an opportunity, it will probably be a positive from the point of view of residency programs that are considering your application. In this case, it is also important to have a well-written explanation of your year away for future reference.

3. “A year away from medical school sounds great.”

I assume everyone who goes through medical school dreams of a few days or weeks away from studying, exams and labs. Assuming you don’t need time away for mental health reasons (which would fall under #1), I would discourage taking a year away from school without a very good reason.

As a residency program director, I would want to see a reason for taking time off that made you a stronger candidate or know that you needed to take time off to support your family or take care of your own health.

I hope these insights are helpful. Be aware that schools will have different policies, and even the exact timing of when you leave for a year (end of an academic year vs. suddenly) will have important implications.

“I am feeling pretty burned out at my job and am looking to work somewhere else. Any advice on finding my next job?”

Unfortunately, over 45% of physicians report burnout symptoms. I usually recommend looking at your burnout symptoms first and assessing how a new opportunity would address them.

Although there are different levels of burnout by specialty, most of us are not able to change our specialty post-residency.

The two biggest areas mentioned by physicians when asked about burnout are work/life balance and work environment. Changing work/life balance can be accomplished by small steps (turning off your phone when you have dinner with your spouse) or larger steps (working one less day a week).

Unfortunately, many of the larger changes can have financial implications which might not be sustainable for you. I also advocate for changes that are specific to you (an exercise routine; starting to meditate or do mindfulness exercises; changing unhealthy lifestyle habits). These are difficult to implement when you feel overtasked, but they can be very powerful.

Changing the work environment requires that you have a setting where people will be open to these changes. More ancillary help, different patient scheduling patterns, a quiet area to sit, etc., all can help. If your current employer does not support these ideas, then finding a place where your ideas can be discussed and supported would be a reason to move on.

Burnout is an important issue in our profession and will be so far many years to come. We spend much of our time helping others and often forget ourselves and our families.

Related reading:

Physician leadership: How do I move from practicing medicine into an administrative role?

Cracking the Match: Everything a current (or future) residency applicant needs to know about the Match algorithm

One comment

  1. Chris Fink

    I have changed locations after 16 yrs in one internal medicine practice. I wasn’t burned out and my partners there were great. My wife and I were looking for a change. This was a change in weather (moving from Michigan to North Carolina), scenery and an increase in teaching opportunities. I am happy with my move and the one thing that I didn’t count on, that caught me by surprise with this move, was a wonderful break. Going from a full practice to starting over with new patients (not inheriting a retiring physician practice) and a slow ramp up it was like a sabbatical. The 2 yrs of a slow ramp up starting out by seeing 6 patients a day was a welcome relief to contemplate medicine and enjoy medicine for what it is. It was nice not to have 50 new pieces of home health papers, pharmacy notices, PT orders, etc… to sign every day. It was at times boring compared to the old high speed locomotive-life rushing through the multiple patients in my panel and getting out of work late. But I don’t regret the reenergization of starting fresh and exploring a new area of the country. I highly recommend a change if a provider is feeling burned out. I do not recommend going to a clinic where you will be assuming a panel of patients from a retiring physician. I would recommend that you start fresh with new patients to that office and make sure that the practice has a generous ramp up period.

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