Volunteer, Clinical, and Research Experiences

Like all of my fellow premeds, I know that medical schools want to see that you have some sort of experience in the field. Whether it be through volunteering, shadowing, research, or all three. However, sometimes it is difficult to come across these types of opportunities (especially if you do not have connections). I am going to share with you how I gained my experiences, and I did all of this on my own.

Before I share all my little tips and stories… let’s just begin with the fact that I am not the daughter of a parent whose job is medically related. In other words, I (and all others who are in my same situation) am like the unlucky unicorn of the medical applicant mix who needs to gain their experiences on their own and work with what they’re given.

A Curious High School Student: The Beginning of the Medical Journey 

When I was in high school, I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. However, I didn’t entirely know what the process for getting accepted into medical school entailed. So, like any other curious/overachieving high school student, I turned to Google. I looked up what types of non-academic related experiences are beneficial to have as a medical school applicant, and I discovered a variety of things.

Some of the similarities I noticed were that medical school like to see:

  • Volunteer Experience (or giving back in some sort of way)
  • Clinical Experience (do you have any sort of experience that validates your passion for medicine)
  • Research (as if there wasn’t enough they wanted us to do)
  • Leadership Experiences (this can also be tied into the volunteer experiences)

Once I noticed all these things, I was determined to do them all before applying to medical school.

Volunteering

As a high school student, I thought the easiest thing to cross off the list was volunteering. So, I applied to become a volunteer at the local hospital in my city. I looked on the hospital’s website, and found the application dates for the summer positions and applied. I got accepted for an interview, and after a week on waiting- I got the position.

That was really my first foot in the door. From there, I truly tried to do to my best and shine as a volunteer. I began volunteering on a post-op floor as a friendly visitor. So, my role was to spend time with the patients, get to know them, and keep them company. On the floor I was working on, the majority of the patients were elderly (85+). I noticed that not a lot of them had visitors who came to see them, so I would often stay passed my shift to spend extra time with them all. This truly opened my eyes, and validated my love for people-especially the elderly.

After that summer passed, I was offered a school year volunteer position. This time I choose to volunteer in the emergency department (so I could see something different). I did this for a year and a half.

Once I started university, I applied to the oncology volunteer program. I absolutely loved this since it encompassed both working with the elderly and seeing another aspect of the medical field.

Through all these experiences, I was able both to give back to my community through volunteering as well as gain some clinical experiences. Also, once I began to volunteer in the oncology program, I started to network and meet a lot of other professionals in the field. This is how I gained my next experience on that crucial list.

Clinical Experiences: Physician Shadowing

As a student with no family connections to the medical field, networking was really crucial for me. I started by making a good impression on the volunteer coordinators, and truly going out of my way to help patients and visitors. All of that hard work paid off, when I received a Volunteer Excellence Award and Scholarship from the hospital. At that point, I knew I could ask my supervisor for tips to gain more experience in the medical field.

My supervisor connected me with another hospital contact who could help arrange for me to shadow physicians (who were interested in my application). By doing this I gained four shadowing opportunities with:

  • A Family Doctor at a Private Practice
  • Two Interventional Radiologists
  • A Nephrologist (who was also the chief of medicine at the hospital)

Again, these experiences were amazing and validated that I truly wanted to pursue a career in medicine. I got to see what the typical day of (various types) doctors looked like, and what type of schedule and setting they worked in.

Research

Finally getting a research position took A LOT of effort, since my local hospital doesn’t have a summer student research position like the big city hospitals do. So again, networking was my key to open up future doors.

First, I was able to get to know the manager of the cancer centre while volunteering. Her and I got off to a great start, and she was really willing to try and help me gain some sort of research experiences. So, she spoke to the clinical trials department, and was able to get me an interview as a volunteer in the department. This was not research. It was just a way of getting me closer to where I wanted to go by putting me in a department that revolved around research. After my interview, I was offered a position.

My new clinical trial research volunteer position consisted of A TON of filing and administrative work, that did not apply to medicine at all. However, if I was good at this I could try and network my way to new opportunities.

It took a year of filing and organizing until FINALLY I was able to get offered a true research position with a physician. To this day I still volunteer in the clinical trials department, and now I have roles that are more related to the business aspect of clinical cancer research. However, it was all through networking that I was able to gain the opportunity of a true research position.

My research position entails writing case reports on psychiatric patients, with the hopes of getting published a couple times before applying to medical school. Also, in the fall I will be doing some long-term research is psychiatry with the same physician.

External Leadership Experiences

Aside from all the medically related experiences, I also think it is important to show that you can be a leader outside of medicine. I do this through a variety of ways, all at my university.

One way I give back to my local community is through a club I founded during my first year of university. It is aimed to give back to the local elderly community, by running free events at the retirement home. My true passion is to work with the elderly, and if I do pursue a career in medicine I would love to be able to work with geriatric patients. This club is a great way for me to gain experience in working with the elderly, as well as give back.

Also, on campus I participate in many leadership roles such as a peer mentor, ambassador, orientation leader, and as a club member of a variety of campus clubs.

I believe that it is super important to show medical school that you are more than just a brain, and that you can balance an academic life with extracurriculars.

I hope this helps anyone who is trying to figure out how to gain all the experiences that the medical school want to see on your applicant. A key emphasis here is that networking is an amazing thing, and do not be afraid to ask others to help you gain these opportunities and experiences. I know it can be challenging. If you have any questions for me, feel free to tweet at me or comment!

Good luck!!!

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