Saturday, July 31, 2010

MiM Mailbag: Experiencing medicine while pre-med

I'd love to hear more about what people did for clinical experience during their premed years. Hospital volunteering? Shadowing?

I'm a non-traditional undergrad student, I'm married, I have two kids and the youngest has special medical needs. I've been volunteering in a pediatric EC for over a year, but I see very little medicine as there is a policy that volunteers can't be present during treatment. My daughter sees about 8 different physicians from various specialties, so I have some exposure from those interactions and the years of testing and treatment we've been though, but I doubt there is a spot for that on my med school applications! I'd love to find a way to experience/observe a little more actual medicine during my undergrad years. Any suggestions?


  1. I'm a non-traditional MS-2 who grew up in a family with a sister with cystic fibrosis, a dad who battled cancer, and a mom who has ASD. I passingly mentioned this in my personal statement and each place I interviewed asked me to elaborate on my experiences ... so there is a place! :)

    Also, in terms of clinical experience, I volunteered at a number of free clinics. Basically, I got to do anything I wanted to and all of the physicians were really passionate about helping people and teaching people. I would highly recommend googling your town and free clinic and then making some phone calls about opportunities. Let me know if you have any questions!

    Good luck!

  2. I'm starting MS-2 in less than 2 weeks (ah!!) I got most of my clinical experience volunteering in an emergency room. The hospital was a teaching hospital, and even though i was just a volunteer, the residents and doctors let me watch procedures all the time- this happened even more once they found out i'd been accepted to med school. i also volunteered in a pediatric psych unit, which was really really hands on.
    good luck!
    my blog, which has some med school related stuff, is

  3. In high school, beginning at age 14, I volunteered at a medical summer camp - each week hosted kids with various diagnoses including CF, cancer, spina bifida, etc. I got volumes of hands-on experience (foleys, breathing treatments) in conjunction with fun stuff like arts and crafts and cookouts. Weekends during the year hosted kids with diagnoses like Down's Syndrome, CP, and more rare syndromes like Prader-Willi and Angelman's. When I finally had to learn these syndromes my experience made it much easier.

    In college, I worked evenings and weekends at a home for people with schizophrenia. I also worked in a child/adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit. Did some genetics research as well - screening DNA libraries and PCR - not so much clinical experience but it got my name on a paper or two and the hands-on experience helped my understanding of molecular labs (I help supervise one!) and molecular basic science in med school tremendously.

    Good luck - I think I know who you are:)

  4. Back in the day before HIPPA, one could do a lot of things. When I was 16, I also did a lot of things that today would not be possible. The problem with volunteering these days is that just like you said, when the pt is watching you have to get them to sign a paper that says YOU can watch, not just those actually taking care of that pt. Some people don't have time to discuss that piece of paper and probably anything truly WORTH watching you won't get to see anyway. As a volunteer (my brother is currently a pre-med, about to start 4th year of college and in the middle of his med school apps), he volunteers in the ER in a large teaching hospital and gets to fill out the pt board and to answer the phone. Occasionally, if the resident/fellow/attending is nice and he bugs him/her enough, he gets to see an IV get started or a cool laceration suturing, etc. Honestly, if he told me that he "understands" what it's like to be a physician, I beg to differ. BUT, med schools will definitely love those experiences. All those experiences mentioned above by people are definitely awesome, BUT I'm sure they took more than 1 or 2 summers to collect. If you REALLY want to know medicine (now, I'm just a nurse, but it's my 2 cents), I think you should hook up with a doctor who REALLY loves their job. Whether it's clinic or hospital based specialist, whatever. You need to actually see what they do, meaning, patient care in a hospital, or medical appointments in clinics and have him/her show you how THEY think, how THEY decide on the diagnosis, lab tests, talk to patients, etc. A physician who loves their job is easy to spot and you will be amazed at the profession. I met one of those very late into my nursing student career. It was do addicting, my passion for medical school was renewed. I really wish for EVERYONE before med school to meet one of those. I think you will really KNOW what to write in your personal statement and will actually come from the heart.
    On that note, you had mentioned your daughter has 8 specialists. I used to work on a step-down unit that saw children with special needs who often had a similar number of specialists. Believe it or not, parents like you amazed me from day 1. You see medicine and patient care first hand. Believe it or not, you see a lot more than your average pre-med and not only should you mention this in your essay, but definitely use your daughter's physicians as a resource. Out of all of them, 1 is bound to be helpful. They can let you shadow them, help you find a place that you would to have you (even if it's volunteering), read your statement, and perhaps (a leap of faith here) become your mentor in the whole med school process. If you're doing this for YOU and not for med school apps, this is the way to go. For just purely med school apps, you need some committed amt of time (I think there is no "required" amt of hours, just so it looks like you've actually been there more than once) some shadowing and some type of activities here and there (AIDS awareness walk, a marathon supporting a cause, etc) that is medicine-related and that shows you aren't just pointing your finger in the sky saying, "I want to be a doctor today." I'm sure you understand.
    I hope you find what you need. There is a website and forum called Student Doctor Network that can be helpful sometimes (take what people say on there with a grain of salt). There is a "Non Traditional STudents" forum there. People on there have been where you are now and can give you some tips. :)

    All the best to you.

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  6. Gizabeth: You've got me figured out, eh?

    Thanks everyone, these suggestions are very helpful. There is a free clinic in my area, I'll definitely check into that.

    I've thought about tapping into my daughter's doctors as a resource before, but I wondered if that would be blurring or crossing a line. I do have a good relationship with my daughter's pediatrician, our families have gotten together a few times outside of clinic for social reasons, and she is a wonderful physician. We went out to dinner to discuss medicine when I was initially thinking about going in this direction. Perhaps I'll check with her (or one of the other docs we see regularly) about shadowing opportunities.

    As for my motivation, of course I want my application to be great, but in this instance, I personally would really like to get more experience and exposure to day to day medicine. I do enjoy my time in the EC, because I've been a parent stuck in the EC for hours on end and providing for parents and patients in that situation is rewarding, but I'd like an opportunity to get more clinical experience as well.

    I really appreciate the suggestions!


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