Medical school selection committee members expect a deep understanding gained through significant experience serving patients in health care settings, and shadowing or working closely with physicians.
They usually don't, however, state a minimum number of expected hours. To ballpark it, I recommend a minimum of 200 hours (~4 hours per week for one year) of volunteering or working in health care settings at time of application, including at least 50 hours of shadowing or working closely with doctors. At least one of the people you shadow should be a primary care physician, specializing in pediatrics, family practice or internal medicine.
The purpose of medical school is to educate and train physicians and surgeons to serve patients who need help, not just to fulfill a candidate's dream of becoming a doctor. So, in addition to health care and shadowing experience, it's essential to grow your social awareness and empathy, and to prove your desire to help others. On-campus activities and philanthropy can be a start, however, especially if you're from a relatively well-served community, it's increasingly important to go out, and directly help people in relatively underserved inner-city and rural communities.
And, there are other ways of helping that can also be developed into distinguishing strengths, through tutoring, teaching, research assisting, advocating and leadership!
Whatever you choose, it's important to show dedication, to continue volunteering, working or research assisting for at least a year.
Be sure to record the name of the setting, hours, activities, contact information for someone who can verify, stories about events, and reflections on what you think, feel and learn.
It's helpful to have a range of experiences, in different settings with different kinds of patients and health care professionals. Some possibilities include:
- Headquarters Counseling Center
- Heartland Community Health Center
- JayDoc Clinic in Kansas City
- KC Care
- Lawrence Community Shelter Medical Services
- Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department
- Lawrence Memorial Hospital
- Stormont Vail Health Volunteer Program
- Trinity Respite Care
- Visiting Nurses, including Hospice Care
There are many you-pay-for-experience premedicine programs, however, internships and fellowships, as such, are rare. Some exceptions include:
- Dialysis Clinic Incorporated (DCI) Summer Internship Program
- JayDoc Free Clinic Volunteer Internship
- National Alliance of Research Associates Programs (NARAP), opportunities to help enroll patients in emergency department research, a combination of assisting with clinical research and interacting with patients.
- Parker B. Francis Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship at University of Kansas Medical Center
- St. Luke's Kansas City Summer Scholars Program, college sophomores - seniors, details & applications available on September 1st and due December 1st calender year before summer, e.g., 12/1/18 for summer 2019, from from Jeanne Kimball.
- U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Paid Undergraduate Summer Internship, very competitive, due at start of January before summer of internship.
Another possibility for summers would be to work or volunteer as a counselor at a camp for children with special needs such as diabetes, cancer or muscular dystrophy.
It's essential to learn about health care in the United States, however, if you also want to help in other countries, you may wish to participate in a medical mission trip, some of which are listed by the American Medical Student Association (AMSA). Some admissions committee members have expressed concerns about students on international trips practicing medicine without proper education, training and supervision. In response, the AAMC has posted Guidelines for Premedical and Medical Students Providing Patient Care During Clinical Experiences Abroad (pdf). And, because there's also a risk of well-intentioned programs doing more harm than good, KU's Center for Service Learning has posted some important Considerations for Serving Ethically.
If you'd like to go abroad, as an alternative to medical mission trips, you may want to consider internships which emphasize learning about medicine in more developed countries, some of which are listed by KU's Office of Study Abroad.
As far as working in a health care setting, Johnson County Community College and Trinity Career Institute offers training for some entry-level health professions, including certified nurse aide and home health aide, and some employers provide training.
The University Career Center can help you put together a resume, and search for related work and internship opportunities.
You can find a position as a teacher or living assistant in a group home for people with developmental disabilities, e.g., Community Living Opportunities, or Cottonwood, as a home health care aide, e.g., Communityworks, Inc., a phlebotomist in a lab or blood/plasma donation center, or as a receptionist, file clerk or medical assistant for a medical practice. First Med and the Reed Medical Group sometimes hire KU students, and you can also search for similar opportunities at other medical practices in Lawrence. Lawrence Memorial Hospital sometimes hires experienced volunteers, and trains them to work as unit secretaries, EEG/EKG telemetry technicians, lab phlebotomists, etc.
Working in a health-related AmeriCorps program, as a Spanish Medical Interpreter or as a medical scribe would all be great ways to a gap year between applying or re-applying and entering medical school.
Is your decision to enter the profession well-informed? Interviewing, shadowing and working with physicians will help you decide whether or not you truly want to join the profession. Ask how they started, what they do, what they like about their jobs, what they dislike about their jobs, and what advice they have for someone interested in pursuing this career.
HIPAA regulations, liability concerns and patient comfort issues make it challenging to shadow physicians, however, it is possible. Most people begin by interviewing their personal physicians, or using friend and family networks to arrange informational interviews and shadowing experiences. Some people try cold calling/e-mailing a list of physicians and surgeons. People with last names later in the alphabet and in less well-known specialties won’t get asked as often, and might be more open to shadowing. Similarly, physicians in smaller towns outside of Lawrence may not get asked as often, and, in smaller practices in which they're more in charge, are more able to allow shadowing. It’s normal to ask a lot of physicians to find a few who will let you shadow.
And, volunteering or working in a health care setting is the best way to set the occasion for shadowing!
Sample different specialties, not just the specialty you think you want to enter at this time. Eventually, it's helpful to shadow at least five different physicians or surgeons, including at least one primary care physician in internal medicine, family practice or pediatrics. So, total shadowing at time of application is usually ~50-100 hours.
It's good to talk with physicians you plan to shadow to figure out the best way to sample and understand what they do. You can learn a lot in 10-20 hours. Occasionally, shadowing grows into a longer-term mentoring connection.
Be sure to send personal thank you cards to the physicians you shadow.
To help you get started, and make the most out of your shadowing opportunities, be sure to attend a KU School of Medicine Primary Care Workshop.
And, to be sure you shadow appropriately, please read the AAMC's Guidelines for Clinical Shadowing Experiences for Premedical Students.
Do you want to help people? Activities like feeding people who are hungry, building houses for people who are homeless, serving as a mentor for young people, and preserving and improving our communities and environment can demonstrate your concern and willingness to sacrifice for others. These may be especially compelling demonstrations of a compassionate nature, because they cannot be attributed solely to your interest in health care.
To find out more about local volunteer programs, you can contact:
Are you interested in the process of doing science? Research can strengthen your candidacy, especially at research-oriented medical schools, and extensive experience is crucial for admission to MD-PhD programs. For more information, see the AAMC's Considering a Career in Medical Research.
Science is integral to medicine, and it's helpful to know how this knowledge is developed. Working on a research project is also a good way to earn a substantial recommendation letter from a faculty member, who knows you well. Most students volunteer their help, some earn directed study credit, and a few are paid for their assistance.
To get involved, you can start with the KU Center for Undergraduate Research. The next step is to find faculty, who're doing research you'd like to help with:
You can gain leadership and management experience by holding an officer position in a student organization or living group, or a representative position in student government. See the KU Center for Involvement & Leadership for more information. You can gain teaching experience by working as a tutor, PLUS session leader or undergraduate teaching assistant. Military service, participating in sports, and/or supporting yourself by working can also strengthen your candidacy.