Suppose you were to decide that you want your pre health experience or pre dentistry experience as a volunteer to take place volunteering or shadowing in a small health clinic for patients who have no health insurance. Here, you would learn about the challenges facing underserved patients and health care providers. The small setting would also make it possible for you to learn about and to watch the patient-doctor relationship and the dynamics of a small clinic setting. You might even get to make a difference.
Other Benefits of Volunteering or Shadowing: Physician Mentors
Mentoring in medicine is amazingly valuable and essential. Volunteering or shadowing to get your pre-health experience or pre-dentistry experience permits you to seek out mentors and to find role models who can guide your choices in medicine and dentistry. Working alongside physicians and letting them to see your dedication over a long period of time prompts meaningful discussions about some of the challenges of the profession along with your career goals. Physicians are eager to provide guidance and assist those who seek them out, paying it forward to the next generation of doctors.
Letters: Important But Not the Sole Reason
As someone doing pre-health experience or pre-dentistry experience volunteering, you may be able to obtain letters of recommendation from those for whom you volunteer. But that should not be the only reason you seek out a volunteer or shadowing opportunity in a medical setting. The main reason to volunteer is to learn about the medical profession, to see if you’re suited to it, and —
hopefully — to have the chance to contribute. A secondary result might be that you get to know a doctor as a result of your volunteer commitment; that physician will learn about your capabilities and feel comfortable attesting to your strengths in a letter. This letter will vouch for your commitment to medicine and maybe describe your personal characteristics and qualities, as well.
How to Get Volunteer or Shadowing Experience: Where to Begin
Most premed advisors at undergraduate institutions will connect their premed students with clinical opportunities in the region. Many advisors maintain lists of volunteer sites and will be able to provide you with information about the hospitals and clinics in the region. If you’re not enrolled in school — let’s say you’re a prospective post-bac student, for example — and want to get a taste of the medical profession, start with your local hospitals or clinics. Most of these sites have volunteer offices which supply information to prospective volunteers about the requirements and various opportunities available. Start there and follow your interests in pre-health experience or pre-dentistry experience.
Getting the Most Out of Clinical Volunteering or Shadowing
1. Approach clinical volunteering or shadowing with an open mind and don’t expect too much. Remember that your medical skills are limited; don’t expect to do more than you’re able to.
2. If you shadow, make a solid time commitment to maximize your learning and show your dedication.
3. Always respect patient confidentiality and obey privacy laws.
4. Keep a journal of your experiences; not only will it help you process some of the emotions you may encounter upon seeing illness (and perhaps death), jotting down your thoughts will also help when you write your personal statement for medical school.
5. Be a helper. You’ll sometimes be called upon to do menial tasks; do them with enthusiasm and remember that these tasks help the entire health care team operate better, which in turn translates into better care for patients.
6. Use your power of observation to try to understand the ways health care teams function and to figure out how you can best contribute.
7. Ask questions when appropriate but be sensitive to the situation.
8. Read about what you observe; maximize your learning by doing outside reading to complement what you’ve seen.
9. Enjoy and learn from the experience. That’s what volunteering is really all about anyway.
Every premed student deserves the best advising possible. If you’re a non-traditional student, a student at a large university, or medical student that simply lacks the proper guidance, there are organizations out there that will give you the ability to get the advising you require to get into and succeed in medical school!