Written by Kennedy Thompson
Having quality experiences is one of the most important things one can have on their applications to graduate level health professional schools. Experience can come in many different forms and can include but are not limited to volunteering, shadowing healthcare providers, working in a lab as a coordinator or research assistant, working in a hospital or clinic to obtain medical experience, or being a part of a club. Health professional schools value length of an activity rather than sheer amount so it’s important to be a part of experiences that you are passionate about. For example, if one were to spend 1 year as a research assistant or have consistently volunteered for the same organization throughout their time in undergrad, this shows commitment and dedication. Use these experiences to explore interests and try new things.
Shadowing (Unpaid Clinical Experience)
Shadowing is a great way to determine if the career you think you’re interested in is the right choice for you. Shawdowing is when you follow a health professional around in the clinic, hospital or their private practice for the entirety or part of their shift in order to see what a day in the life is like for them. Shadowing should be thought of as an avenue to explore different medical specialties, different careers in healthcare and gives one the oppurtunity to build relationships with the healthcare providers that they shadow. By building and maintaining professional relationships through networking, it could lead you to another opportunity (job position, referral, recommendation letter etc.)
How do you get shadowing experience? Start off by creating a list of medical specialties and medical careers that interest you and look for hospitals, clinics or private practices near you. You can directly contact these organizations by phone or email or even just drop in. You can even search up the names of doctors/PA’s/Dentists and connect with them on LinkedIn or send them emails personally. It is appropriate to follow up after some time but keep in mind that you may not receive a response, or the healthcare provider might just say “no”. To increase your chances of obtaining a shadowing opportunity, reach out to many different providers during your time in undergrad. Summers off from school is another great time to acquire shadowing experience.
Research is a great way to develop critical thinking and analytical skills and can provide a competitive advantage for applications. It’s also a great way to explore your interests, become an expert in a field of interest and provide you with potential opportunities for publications. Research experience can be in the form of clinical, systematic or wet lab. You can get involved in research on campus, look for other research opportunities or even complete a research co-op.
If you are looking to participate in research outside of Northeastern, you can send direct emails to research coordinators or PI’s affiliated with labs or research centers asking if there are any opportunities to get involved.
If looking to get involved with research on campus, you can look up the professor directory and see what research various professors are involved in and reach out to them directly. There is also the annual Showcase of Opportunities for Undergraduate Research and Creative Endeavor (SOURCE) which will be held on Thursday, October 5th, 2023, from 5:00-8:00 PM ET in Curry Student Center. This showcase is where faulty members share the work they are doing and look for potential undergraduate research assistants. Link can be found here: https://undergraduate.northeastern.edu/research/news/source2023/
Another option is to participate in a research co-op. This can either be in the form of clinical research or wet lab research (academia or pharmaceutical/biotech). Depending on the nature of the co-op and the tasks that may be required, you may get the opportunity to learn different lab techniques, facilitate your own research project, or become familiar with the process of clinical research.
Paid Clinical Experience
Obtaining clinical experience is one of the most valuable components to a strong health professional school application. This is the process of actively engaging with patients and their care. Clinical experience shows that you have the skills necessary to pursue a career in medicine and know, to an extent, what you’re getting yourself into.
Examples of jobs include working as an EMT, CNA, medical assistant, PCA, pharmacy technician, medical scribe, dental assistant etc. Completing a clinical co-op is a great way to get 6 months full time (864-960 hours) of paid clinical exposure.
Volunteering (Unpaid Clinical
Volunteering can be a great way to showcase leadership, compassion, and empathy. Being passionate about your projects and finding opportunities that are meaningful and significant to you is a great way to show health professional schools who you are and what type of provider you hope to be. Volunteering can take place in hospitals or clinics (ER volunteer, Volunteer ambassador etc.) or can be with other various volunteer organizations (Habitat for Humanity, Community Servings etc.).
Volunteering opportunities can be found by doing a quick google search or hospitals or clinics that are looking for volunteers. You can email the volunteer director or the head of volunteering services. For other volunteering opportunities look for orginizations that are dedicated to working on issues that you’re passionate about and see if they are taking volunteers. Clubs here on campus and Northeastern’s Community Engagement office are also great ways to learn about different volunteering opportunities: https://communityengagement.northeastern.edu/
Volunteering should be an enjoyable experience and seen as a way to give back to the community.
In summation, it can be daunting at first to get involved in Pre-med/Pre-health-related experiences. However, they are an integral part of your experience as a pre-med/pre-health student. It will strengthen your application to health professional schools but is also a great way to explore and fall in love with the many different facets of a career in medicine.