One factor that can seriously hurt your chances of getting accepted to med school is a lack of substantive, ongoing service experiences, both clinical and nonclinical.
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 nonmedical 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 this: the one that will make the most impact on you.
Meaningful experiences come in myriad forms. The most fruitful ones are those that build on your personal interests – the things that drive you and the issues you care about. Volunteer work that you’ve sustained over the long term is generally more impressive than bouncing from one cause to the next, and it’s easier to stay consistent and engaged 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 doing it?
When you’ve been volunteering with a group for a while, you might find that you no longer feel challenged. This might mean it’s time for you to shift gears and find another opportunity. If you want to explore a different cause, that’s fine – so long as it’s something you’re passionate about. If you want to address the same issues, just in a different way, put some feelers out to see whether there are openings or opportunities with similar organizations. And if you want to stay with the same 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 need to go further.
Obviously, volunteer opportunities have been affected by the pandemic. With hospitals under pressure, limiting nonessential access was a vital step to protect public health. Although admissions committees have been understanding about such disruptions during the pandemic, they generally still favor applicants who took initiative in serving their communities. And, as we continue moving slowly into our post-pandemic world, in-person clinical exposure should again become the most critical factor for applicants, and something you can’t ignore. If you’ve identified clinical exposure as a weak area of your candidacy, 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.
Eight 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. Surgical Recovery Units, Emergency Departments, and other areas often allow chances for patient interaction. And free clinics are typically 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 such as Summer Camp Staff can connect you with such opportunities.
- 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 local hospital offers a Hospital Elder Life Program. They’re often seeking volunteers to work with elderly patients, as are hospices and nursing homes.
- Go abroad. Programs such as 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, given that anything significant requires a medical license. And just like improving your study skills, this isn’t something you can fix quickly. Hopefully, any volunteer activities you began engaging in before you submitted your previous application are ongoing. If so, 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 – 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.
To improve your odds of acceptance when you reapply to medical school, take advantage of Accepted’s application review service, which will provide you with a tailored assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
About the author:
A former fellowship admissions committee member and administrator at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Cydney Foote has successfully advised healthcare applicants, including those applying to medical school, dental school, nursing and PA programs, veterinary school, public health and hospital administration programs, post-baccalaureate medical programs, residencies and fellowships. Since 2001, she has brought her marketing and writing expertise to help science-focused students communicate their strengths. Want Cyd to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!