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Pre-Health Volunteering
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Pre-Health Volunteering Information

Professional schools are looking for highly-motivated, committed, enthusiastic, thorough and well informed applicants. They strongly prefer people who have looked into the details of the profession and know the shortcomings, demands, and rewards of the profession through direct experience. Such people will be more realistically motivated to go through the pre-professional program, and are more likely to be accepted, all other things being equal.

Find out for yourself what the doctor-patient relationship, working conditions, life-style, and nitty gritty of health care is like. Pre-health students are also encouraged to seek experience on their own. Involvement in any activity which develops and demonstrates your interest, motivation, and experience in your chosen professional field will generally be helpful. Health-related jobs or volunteer experiences may be found in hospitals, clinics, dentist's or physician's offices, nursing homes, day care centers and a variety of other settings. They provide experience beyond the superficial aspects of the profession.

We do not recommend these activities just to fill up your application form. It is important that you participate in these activities because you are interested in them. If you find you do not enjoy this type of work, you should take this as a serious indication that this may not be the right career for you.

Guidelines for getting the most out of the doctor “shadowing” experience

Among the most important choices in life is that of a career and life’s work. In this single choice are combined one’s values and aspirations, one’s self expectations and assessment of talents, uncertainty, consideration of costs—time and money, and concern about how the choice will have impact on one’s personal and family life. The choice of a career in health care is all of that, and is, in a word, complex.

In order to get the most out of your doctor “shadowing” experience and learning what it’s like to be a physician, dentist, or other health care professional, you need to learn not only what the professional with whom you’ll be spending time does all day, but also how he or she puts the day together, allows time for the unexpected, stays current in the profession, addresses uncertainty, integrates personal and professional life, and other issues. There’s a lot to learn, both from the professional and from the patients, as well as from the patients’ families (or their owners if you’re spending time with a veterinarian). Experienced health care professionals know that patients and families are important teachers.

The broad question is: “What did I learn?” We suggest that, among other activities during this experience, you consider these questions:

  • What did I learn from this transaction with the patient about:
    • The patient’s illness
    • What’s going on in the patient’s life that may have importance in dealing with the illness
    • The doctor-patient relationship
    • The importance of spending enough time
    • The importance of engaged listening without interruption
    • What did I learn, not only about the patient, but from the patient?
    • What did the patient teach me?
    • What did I learn about what it’s really like to be a doctor?

We suggest that you keep a journal of your experiences and reflections. Journaling is not only a way to record facts and feelings, but also is an important step in becoming a reflective doctor, a valuable quality. The journal will also be a helpful resource as you complete your applications to professional school. We suggest also that you share these guidelines with the person(s) whom you are shadowing, so that you can have shared goals.

Reprinted with permission from Macalester College, April 2005

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