Medical school selection committee members expect significant health care experience, however, they usually don't state a minimum number of 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 physicians and surgeons. At least one of the people you shadow should be a primary care physician in pediatrics, family practice or internal medicine.
In addition, it's helpful to develop an area of distinguishing strength, further direct patient care, social service or scientific research experience.
It's important to show commitment in your activities, to continue volunteering, working or research assisting for at least a year.
Although they're all helpful, off-campus health care, service and shadowing experiences seem more important for admission to the KU School of Medicine than on-campus activities, and, if you're from a relatively well-served community, it's important to show a willingness to serve people in relatively underserved inner-city and rural communities.
Be sure to keep a detailed record of the setting, hours, activities, contact information for someone who can verify, and reflections on what you felt, thought and learned.
It's helpful to have a range of experiences, in different settings with different kinds of patients and health care professionals. Some possibilities include:
- Free/Low Cost Clinics in Kansas
- Headquarters Counseling Center
- Health Care Access
- Heartland Community Health Center
- JayDoc Clinic in Kansas City
- KC Care
- Lawrence Community Shelter Medical Services
- Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department
- Lawrence Memorial Hospital
- Marian Clinic in Topeka
- Trinity Respite Care
- Visiting Nurses, including Hospice Care
There are lots of pay-for-experience premedicine programs, however, there aren't many real internships, as such. Notable exceptions include the Dialysis Clinic Incorporated (DCI) Summer Internship Program, U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research Paid Undergraduate Summer Internship, and St. Luke's Summer Internships Program.
The National Alliance of Research Associates Programs (NARAP) has summer opportunities to help enroll patients in emergency department research, a combination of assisting with clinical research and interacting with patients.
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). Some KU students have also expressed concern about the real impact of volunteering on the communities they've tried to serve, and have recommended viewing Holland's "First, Do No Harm: A Qualitative Research Documentary" video as an introduction to these issues.
If you'd like to go abroad, as an alternative to medical mission trips, you may want to consider medical internships 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 offers training for some entry-level health professions, including certified nurse aide and home health aide, and some employers offer or reimburse for 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 aid, 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. You can also try calling/e-mailing a list of physicians and surgeons. People with last names later in the alphabet and in less popular 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 are 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.
Volunteering or working in a health care setting can also set the occasion for these activities.
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. KU Study Abroad, military service, participating in sports, and/or supporting yourself by working can also strengthen your candidacy.