In this section of our Medical School Reapplicant Advice: 6 Tips for Success series, we’ll discuss how reapplicants can improve their service experiences.
Another factor that can seriously hurt your chances is a lack of substantive, ongoing service experiences, both clinical and non-clinical.
Medical schools want students who are passionate and committed – to the world around them as well as to medicine. The AAMC says:
“Most volunteer experiences are valuable and will provide you with well-rounded experiences. Just make sure you have at least one solid healthcare-related experience, in addition to your non-medical volunteer work, so that your experiences speak to your commitment to medicine.”
But which volunteer experiences will make the most impact on an admissions committee?
The short answer is: the one that will make the most impact on you.
Meaningful experiences come in myriad forms. The most fruitful ones are those that build upon your personal interests – the things that drive you and the issues you care about. Volunteer work that’s sustained over the long term is generally more impressive than bouncing from one cause to the next, and it’s easier to do that if you are truly committed to what you’re doing. Whether it’s cleaning beaches because you enjoy SCUBA or helping out at the humane society because you love animals, canvassing your community to promote recycling or building a community garden, your engagement will demonstrate your concern for the world around you.
But what if you’re already volunteering? Do you need to keep going?
When you’ve been volunteering with a group for a while, you may find you’re no longer challenged. This might mean it’s time for you to shift gears and find another opportunity. If you want to explore another cause, that’s fine – so long as it’s something you’re passionate about. If you still want to address the same issues, put some feelers out to see if there are openings with similar organizations. And if you want to stay with your organization but just want new challenges, talk to your superiors. Chances are, there will be other work that might suit you, and you’ll be able to show your growth and leadership as you take on new responsibilities.
It’s hard to convince an admissions committee that you want to pursue a medical career if you haven’t spent time in a clinical environment. Shadowing can give you a peek into that world, and it is a wonderful way to learn about the different specialties. But to demonstrate the kind of ongoing, substantive involvement that will make an impact, you’ll need to go further.
Obviously, volunteer opportunities have been affected by the pandemic. With hospitals under pressure, limiting non-essential access has been a vital step to protect public health. While admissions committees have been understanding about disruptions during this period, they have still favored those who took initiative in serving their communities. And, as we move slowly into our post-pandemic world, in-person clinical exposure should again become the most critical factor for applicants, and something that you can’t ignore. If you’ve identified clinical exposure as a weak area, there are many avenues to bolster your application.
These experiences won’t just help you look good on your application – they will genuinely help you prepare for a future career in medicine.
8 ways to gain clinical experience
- Volunteer at your local hospital or free clinic. Some positions won’t offer much patient contact, but some involve providing patients with pre-exam instructions, entertaining sick children, and escorting patients to various areas. Areas like Surgical Recovery Units and Emergency Departments often allow chances for patient interaction. And free clinics are often in need of help. Look around your community and see what’s available.
- Work as a Certified Nursing Assistant or a Medical Assistant. After you’re trained, you can work in patient support roles in clinics, nursing homes and many other settings.
- Train and work as a Medical Scribe. This is a great way to get an inside look at a doctor’s decision-making process.
- Train and work as an Emergency Medical Technician on campus or in your community.
- Join the staff at a summer camp for children with disabilities or chronic illness. Listings like Summer Camp Staff can put you in touch.
- Intern or volunteer with your county health department. Many opportunities will put you in touch with physicians and public health experts, as well as affected populations.
- See if your hospital offers a Hospital Elder Life Program. They’re often seeking volunteers to work with their elderly patients, as are hospices and nursing homes.
- Find overseas opportunities. Programs like Gap Medics can help organize placements. Before seeking an overseas position, however, take a look at the AAMC’s guidelines.
Gaining substantive, ongoing clinical experience can be challenging, since anything significant requires a medical license. And like improving your study skills, this isn’t something that you can fix quickly. Hopefully any volunteer activities begun before your last application are ongoing – in that case, you’re in good shape to reapply with a stronger application. However, it’s important not to rush this step – reapplying before you’ve had time to develop solid experiences could land you right back at the starting gate.
As you prepare for your reapplication, try to stay optimistic. What you’ve been through hasn’t been easy – those rejections aren’t good for anyone’s self-confidence – but hopefully you can look back on it as a learning experience. Now wiser and more qualified, you stand a much better chance at getting into medical school.
In our next post, we’ll be looking at how you can present this wiser, more qualified you.
To improve your chances of acceptance when you reapply to medical school, take advantage of Accepted’s application review service to get a tailored assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
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