Volunteering, Shadowing, Interning, Working...
The clinical experience that you gain while at Stonehill will become a critical factor in your decision to attend professional health school. It is also an important factor in the admissions committees’ consideration of your professional promise. Gaining clinical experience is never a passive observation of a clinical setting; in fact, it is only valuable if you are altered in the process. For example, you may come out of a clinical experience having gained the motivation needed to complete the application process, or you may learn that a particular health care field is not for you.
You can gain clinical experience in a variety of ways, but whether you choose to intern, shadow, volunteer, perform research, or a combination of these, you should not approach the experience as another obstacle to overcome in your effort to become a competitive candidate for a professional health program. In fact, you will not be a competitive candidate unless you actively participate in the experience, use it to gain valuable knowledge of the health care profession, and reinforce your desire to enter a particular health care field.
Beginning the Process
Your first goal is to decide which type of clinical experience would be most relevant to the professional field you intend to enter. For example, if you are looking to become an osteopathic physician, you will benefit by shadowing an osteopathic physician in your area. If you want to become a veterinarian, you might consider volunteering at an animal shelter. However, you need not necessarily exclude an experience if an opportunity arises in another health care field. Gaining clinical experience is your opportunity to explore different areas of health care and decide which field best suits you.
* Think of your own contacts. You have a primary care physician or a veterinarian. Contact them, let them know you are pursuing medical/veterinary programs after graduation and ask if you may shadow them for an afternoon while home on break. Then, ask if they can help you network to other practitioners.
Quality Over Quantity
Many students want to know how much experience they should gain in order to be a competitive candidate for professional health school. Use your common sense to determine a reasonable number of hours. For example, twenty hours would be considered insufficient, whereas five hundred would be more than what is expected. The truth is, there is no set number of hours. The quality of the experience is more important than the number of hours you type on your resume.
However, that does not mean you can get away with gaining only a few hours of clinical experience. Neither should you limit yourself to one semester of shadowing, interning, and/or volunteering. By gaining a variety of experiences in the health care field, you will be better equipped at an interview to market yourself as knowledgeable, prepared, and committed to your goals. If you are truly committed to the health care field of your choice, it seems only natural to admission committees that you would want to be immersed in that profession even before you enter professional health school.
* Take advantage of whatever experience you can! In other words, be actively observant. Ask questions after you watch a procedure. Be sure to understand it. Be prepared for your admission committee interview. They might ask, “What did you observe during your clinical experience?” then follow up by asking you to describe, in detail, exactly what the physician did. (eg: “How did the dentist drill and fill the cavity?”)
Volunteering is an excellent opportunity to express your commitment to serving others and to gain exposure to the health care field. A strong community service record is an important part of a competitive health professional school application.
Health-related experience can be found in a variety of settings, including local hospitals, hospice centers, community health clinics, rehabilitation centers, long term care, and nursing homes. Many organizations will expect a set time commitment from the volunteer over a period of months. A long-term commitment to community service demonstrates your social awareness and responsibility, as well as your investment in the community.
Many volunteer roles take the form of patient transport or food delivery. These are fantastic opportunities to get patient contact. You might not be observing a full hip replacement, but you are speaking with patients, understanding their anxieties, and are actively seeing how a hospital operates and parts various employees play (eg: doctors, nurses, social workers, etc.).
* Every hospital looks for volunteers and, oftentimes, has a Volunteer Coordinator. Contact information can be easily found on their websites. Remember, a hospital may require additional background checks, as well as health and immunization records. Plan ahead as these take time!
Shadowing and interning are similar types of clinical experiences that can be equally valuable to your decision to enter the health care field. Both provide you with the opportunity to observe health care professionals under realistic conditions and thereby allow you to experience what your work day would be like if you were to enter the health profession.
In an internship, you are usually given specific tasks and may be paid or unpaid. Shadowing is less structured than an internship and is always unpaid. Because you are not delegated certain tasks in a shadowing experience, you must take the experience into your own hands. Contrary to popular opinion, shadowing is not merely a passive observational experience, but requires active participation. Here are some tips on how you can maximize your experience:
- When you begin, communicate what you expect to get out of the experience, so that you are on the same page with your health care professional and he or she knows from the beginning that you value the opportunity.
- Ask questions. Inquire about why the professional chose their particular health care field.
- Encourage the health professional to challenge you. Ask for a homework assignment, i.e. to research a particular disease or medical procedure. Encourage them to ask you questions that allow you to apply the knowledge you have learned from your courses at Stonehill.
- Ask to spend time with the office administration. Health care professionals do not only interact with patients, they also have to run a business. Learn about how appointment scheduling and health insurance works.
- Set a schedule that is convenient for you and the physician so that you do not feel as you are imposing on his or her work day.
Your goal is to make a good impression on the health care professionals you work with; they are potential recommenders when it comes time to apply to professional programs.
* Internships in medicine, specifically, can be very difficult to find. Broaden your perspective on what clinical experience can be – shadowing, volunteering, etc. Do not limit yourself to only internships.