How To Be Intentional With Your Choices
As pre-med students we all face the reality of needing to satisfy requirements or check boxes. Along our paths, we complete thorough shadowing, clinical, and volunteer hours. Although checking boxes is inevitable, ensuring your experiences truly exemplify your passions is what matters most.
While gaining shadowing hours, it is important to shadow physicians from a plethora of fields, even if you have your heart set on a certain specialty. Sometimes, it may even be beneficial to shadow fields that you may be hesitant of. We know that it can be difficult to establish an initial connection with a physician, however, when searching for physicians be sure to find an individual you can shadow consistently.
One of the most beneficial things we have learned is that shadowing in private practices has many benefits. There are typically less regulations and protocols for student-observers in these facilities. We have found that in the era of Covid-19, physicians in private practices have allowed students to continue to shadow. While doing so, we are often introduced to other physicians and are able to network and expand our shadowing opportunities.
In regards to volunteering, this is one of the most exciting requirements to fulfill, since these opportunities are typically non-clinical hours and can be manifested in a number of ways. When finding volunteer opportunities it is important to keep longevity in mind. As students, we often find one-time opportunities that can be difficult to elaborate on within the medical school application. Ensuring you have an end goal in mind can help alleviate being unable to expand on how an experience fits into the grand scheme of things. For Jordan, her experience was a service trip to Panama. Though she knew she’d be helping a community in a third world country, she didn’t know how much of an impact the trip would have on her. Having some Spanish skills allowed her to build relationships with members of the community. Though this experience was only a week-long, it guided later volunteer efforts she joined because she found she was very interested in health disparities. The importance of these experiences is to be able to discuss what you have learned and gained from them. Showing consistency with a program allows you to become better acquainted with your peers and convey your dedication. While finding a volunteer opportunity, think about what you enjoy doing. For example, Amaya enjoys cooking and encouraging healthier meal ideas. This encouraged her to volunteer with a children’s culinary kitchen that works with Richmond City students. Amaya was able to continue one of her passions in life, while also creating an environment where children could explore their creativity in the kitchen.
Clinical hours can be very challenging to receive. Jobs such as EMT or Scribing are great consistent opportunities to gain clinical hours. Although these jobs may be popular, there are other opportunities to gain patient interaction that you may also be interested in. When finding a position be sure to consider the duration of training. If you hope you gain a specific amount of hours within a certain time period, be sure to review the training requirements for your desired program. Finding volunteer positions with clinics are a great way to not only volunteer within the field, but also gain hands-on experience. When Amaya was considering how to gain clinical hours, she imagined she had to undergo months of training before she could find a program. However, through networking she was able to gain a position as a medical volunteer at an addiction clinic. Although she did not have any prior medical training, her willingness to learn encouraged her coordinators that she would be an asset to the team. Within this position Amaya has gained knowledge in addiction medicine and the current opioid crisis. She currently assists patients on their journey to recovery and truly enjoys being able to. While clinical positions may have to satisfy particular requirements, they are not limited in regards to what you can do. As someone who has witnessed addiction separate families firsthand, Amaya was passionate about finding a clinical opportunity that allowed her to work with patients in this field. Another way to find clinical opportunities is to sign up for pre-health newsletters and join pre-health clubs. Jordan was able to connect with a free-clinic through a pre-health program she previously participated in. Her participation within this organization allowed her to gain hands-on experience, while also witnessing the challenges individuals facing abuse or financial hardships encountered. Being from Baltimore, she’s witnessed the effects of families facing health disparities. This position also improved her communication within her role as a Crisis Counselor because it gave her experience with empathizing with varying communities. In the process, she also realized how important it is to tackle stigmas associated with mental health, particularly in the black community.
If you are unsure how to classify a volunteer position (clinical vs. non-clinical), be sure to ask medical schools early to ensure you set yourself up for success. Focus on gaining essential skills that will be an asset to your journey in medicine, while also stepping outside your comfort zone. Along the way, be sure to create professional relationships with staff, ask questions, and most of all, be transparent about your journey to medicine. You never know what opportunities you may find by just introducing yourself to someone new! Altogether we hope to encourage you to be conscious of the opportunities you partake in.
Below are consistent experiences that we have completed
Resident Assistant with VCU Residential Life and Housing (year-long commitment)
Medical Volunteer at Health Brigade (formally known as the Fan Free Clinic in RVA)
Virtual Moderator with NextUp RVA
Crisis Counselor with the Crisis Text Line
Participant and Mentor with VCU Acceleration
Medical Volunteer with Goochland Free Clinic
Mentor with VCU emerging leaders program
Participant in Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation
-Two Be Brown