It seems like nowadays, every other student is on the premedical track. With 120 credits on their plates, clubs and research on the side and a heaping stack of volunteering hours to do, aspiring student doctors often face stress and want to slow down the pace of their lives. Others want to take time off and discover what field they truly want to pursue.

Rachel Damiani, a premedical biology major but with minors in classics and English, graduated last year and is currently taking a gap year between college and medical school. As an undergraduate, Damiani did research in the biology department, first with biology professor Dr. Jamie Gillooly as a sophomore and then with Dr. Todd Palmer, another biology professor, on plant mutualism. She traveled to Kenya to be research assistant and then TA for Todd’s class. She was involved in a recycling project and the Science for Life research club.

After applying for and getting accepted by many science programs in her senior year, Damiani said, “It didn’t feel right, it wasn’t the right path.” “A lot of the programs I applied to require a multiple year commitment with a heavy focus on the sciences and biology.” After spending four years studying for her biology classes, Daminai realized she wanted to pursue a different path and have some time to stop and think about what she really wanted.

Gap year activities can stem from things that a student did earlier in their college career. Since she was an ambassador for the Science for Life (SFL) program, Damiani talked with SFL Co-Director Dr. Ben Dunn and the SFL organization to help coordinate the 2015 CASE event. CASE, Creativity in the Arts and Sciences, aims to connect art to with science. Damiani participated in this event as an undergraduate and wanted help art students work together and to increase collaboration, as well as spread awareness of the event. After her last week working with Science for Life, Damiani accepted an offer to work with CPET, the Center for Pre-collegiate Education and Training. There she will work as a coordinator for science outreach for high school students. This summer the program will add arts to their outreach initiatives.

“As a CASE assistant I learned a lot on a personal level,” she said. “As a student I was focused mostly on school and was sometimes too serious…I didn’t have enough time to develop as a person.”

Now that she has more free time, Damiani feels like her daily routine is “More enjoyable, not as governed by student rules like exams.” “I have more time to read, hike and get to do long trail runs,” she said.

Looking at medical school as a gap year student, Damiani feels a new sense of drive. When asked about whether she would recommend students should take a gap year or not, Damiani said, “It depends on context, if you’re ready and feel developed on a personal level, then take the next step for your profession. Others have more figuring out to do and want explore more in the world.”

Lida Esfandiary, a recent premedical biology graduate, took a gap year in France, where she spent eight months doing medical research as an undergraduate. Esfandiary enjoyed playing club tennis, volunteering at Shands and doing research under the UF Howard Hughes Medical Institution program. She worked in a research lab at the college of Veterinary Medicine studying Sjögren’s syndrome. When asked about recommending gap years for others, Esfandiary talked about her positive experience. “Staying in France for eight months and working in a research lab made me realize I wanted to continue research. There is nothing to lose! You’ll only gain experience. It’s a good time period to do something you love and are passionate about and an even greater time to learn and live amongst different cultures.”