Many students reach out with questions on how to prepare for a career in pre-health. There are several stepwise experiential activities students can do to prepare, including volunteering, shadowing, and conducting internships in medical and research settings!
All types of activities conducted while an undergraduate student will be essential for entrance into health professional graduate schools. Students may begin as early as the freshman and sophomore years with volunteering and shadowing professionals in their fields of interest, which gives insights into a specific health setting. During the rising-junior summer and as upperclassmen, students can begin to engage the Career Advancement Center (CAC) for assistance to find meaningful internships, offering a deeper learning investment. These opportunities can each be taken for 0-2 credits (maximum allowed of 3 credits). Stepwise planning helps a student propel forward with a solid experiential profile into one of the accelerated programs at Rosalind Franklin University or, upon graduation, to a health professional graduate school at one of our other partner schools and beyond.
Pre-health students and those in the Health Professions Program (HPP) will gain valuable experience by engaging activities meant to develop competencies associated with serving others, as well as an awareness of social and cultural factors that influence patient’s ability to access healthcare. The escalation to internship experiences during the junior and senior years will offer students the opportunity to practice skills learned in the classroom associated with problem solving, analytical thinking, and oral and written communication. Internships also allow students to put their team-building skills – developed while a student at LFC – into practice in a professional setting.
All students should make every effort to create their own opportunities, which is considered part of the learning process. However, the CAC continues to develop health sector employer partnerships, with pre-health and HPP internships specifically in mind.
Although most types of volunteer work are valuable experiences, volunteering in healthcare settings offers a pre-health student insight into the type of context under consideration, whether it be a hospital ER, a hospice clinic, or a rehabilitation center, etc. Students can also gain firsthand observation of a professional in the area of interest, such as a nurse, doctor, physician’s assistant, pharmacist, or clinical therapist, etc. Many health professions graduate schools require a certain number of volunteer hours, so it is important to consider engaging a volunteer role as early as the freshman year. Doing so will set the stage for obtaining more in-depth experiences in subsequent years. In addition, volunteer commitments should be considered as a real job, as in, keeping hours on-time, dressing professionally, seeking mentorship, and obtaining letters of evaluation for the experience. These letters will be needed later, when applying to a health professional graduate program.
Health professional graduate schools strongly encourage students to validate their interests by spending time engaged in in-depth observation, which is formally referred to as shadowing. Shadowing gives a student a glimpse of the day-to-day life of health professionals currently working in a student’s field of interest. Notably, the HPP option invites 40 hours’ worth of shadowing experience to satisfy the core experiential credit. Shadowing helps students:
- observe the relationships, health communication, and medical decision-making between health professionals and patients
- develop an understanding of the working lives of health professionals and their interactions with others on the treatment teams
- discover and evaluate their interests in one or more health professions
How to Find a Shadowing Experience
Step One: Make a list
Make a list of what you’d be willing to do in your Shadowing experience. How far would you travel? When are you available to shadow? What are you curious about learning in this field?
Make a list of any medical professional with whom you’ve ever come in contact, who would possibly be able to help you. Never rule-out anyone — your family doctor, your neighbor back home who is a nurse, your friend’s father who is a pharmacist, the optometrist you once visited because you had a coupon, etc. Use your own student network – would any friends have parents able to help you find a healthcare professional to shadow during the summer, or during the school year? As a sophomore and more advanced year student, consider reaching out to LFC alumni! The Career Advancement Center maintains a database of alumni, but it is also helpful is to conduct research of nearby professionals and reach out them via email, phone, or LinkedIn.
Step Two: Ask for the Shadowing Experience
Be ready to discuss your interest in shadowing. The more prepared you are to speak to the professionals, the more easily they can assist you. Work on developing a brief script that explains who you are, and practice explaining your interests in shadowing. Create a clear request that explains what you would like to observe, the type of professional you would like to see in action, and why the experience would benefit you.
If a negative answer is received, graciously extend appreciation for their consideration. One should always be flexible upon receiving a negative answer. So as not to let the valuable moment of engagement with a professional pass, be prepared to follow-up for a request to engage in a single informational interview or networking conversation, where the professional can be briefly engaged for career advice or asked about whether they have any suggestions of someone else to call. Upon hearing a negative response, it is always best to reassess your preparation based on the reasons shared about why the opportunity is not available.
Step Three: Interview for the Shadowing Experience
If the answer to your request to shadow a professional is positive, then it will be worth the effort to prepare for the engagement. The professional might ask to see a resume. There might be an interview. Even though the shadowing experience is unpaid, and there is no college credit opportunity, it should still be treated as a formal engagement. Keep in mind that, if the shadowing experience goes well, the mentor can often provide a compelling letter of engagement for your graduate school application. In some cases, shadowing positions can turn into internships, and if this is desired, it should be mentioned during the interview. Dress professionally, bring your resume, turn off your phone, and arrive 10 minutes early.
Step Four: Send an email, explaining that you obtained a shadowing opportunity to the faculty supporting Pre-Health Advising!
Experiential Internships: Pre-Health Clinical and Medical/STEM Research
Internships provide insight into a wide range of healthcare careers and allow students to develop new skills that help distinguish them from other health professions applicants. Clinical internships are ideal for any student contemplating a career as a nurse, doctor, physician’s assistant, physical therapist, or clinical counselor, for example. However, not all healthcare careers are clinical. The HPP program is designed to give an overview of the non-traditional options, as well, such as medical and clinical trials research, health informatics, health administration, athletics training, genetics counseling, and pre-clinical pharmaceutical roles, to name a few. In preparation for engaging any of these professional contexts, a student can work together with the CAC to search for and obtain a 0-2 credit internship, which can be taken during any term during the rising-junior through graduation period. The College has placed a limit of maximum 3 credits for credited academic internships, i.e., those taken for college credit.
For those students in the HPP program and any currently engaged in pre-health advising, please make an appointment with Dr. Pauline Binder-Finnema, PhD, for further direction on which advisor at the CAC would be best for your career consultation. Dr. Binder-Finnema is the LFC Pre-Health Advisor at the CAC, and is also the experiential core contact person on the faculty Partnership Steering Committee, which includes the HPP program.
For general information about academic year and summer internships, the various professionals working at the CAC, and the types of internship sites partnering with the CAC for internships, see these links for the CAC Internship Website and an informative Health Careers Example.
Explained at the top of this webpage, many students begin developing their interests in pre-health with volunteering and shadowing. However, it is very common for students to also begin their career exploration through on- and off-campus research. Engaging research internships will help students continue to develop an aptitude for defining and analyzing a problem, and for interpreting results, all of which are critical skills used in medicine and the health professions! A few examples:
- Richter Scholar Summer Research(competitive applications are due in the Spring Term for students who have completed their first year, the rising-sophomore summer)
- Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science Summer Research Program(competitive applications are due in the Spring Term for students who have completed at least their sophomore year, available starting from the rising-junior summer)
- Lab research, independent study, or senior thesis with science faculty on campus. For those in the HPP program, consult experiential core guidelines for options related to satisfying the HPP requirement
All majors are welcome to access pre-health advising and, beginning with the 2020/2021 school year, incoming freshmen through juniors will be able to join the HPP program.
Assistant Director of Career Advancement Center
Related websites in Pre-Health:
- Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
- Computer Science
- Data Science
- Environmental Studies