Hello guys! It’s been a long time since we’ve talked! With the start of medical school for so many new students and the general back to school buzz, I figured I would start up my Pre-Med series, where I blog about tips and tricks for getting into medical school. As I’ve written before, the road to medical school starts long before college. You can start preparing for medical school even in high school (provided you’ve either figured out that medicine is your passion or you have a general interest in this area and want to learn more about it).
Today, I wanted to talk about Clinical Experience specifically, because it is the most important part in the journey to medical school (in my opinion). You see, clinical experience is essential for many reasons. For starters, if you’re curious what doctors actually do or what their lives consist of as pivotal members in a healthcare team, gaining clinical experience is a great way to peer into their lives and roles. Asking them questions about their day to day or watching them do their job could lead you to understand more of what’s to come for you future. You’ll either be inspired or realize that this isn’t for you. And a little side note – that is perfectly ok. Medicine is not for everyone, and it’s important to figure out if it is right for you. Which is why I always suggest to any pre-med to start gaining clinical experience early. I’ll share some of the biggest ways you can do this and dive a little deeper by sharing my personal experiences with each kind of clinical experience.
I started off as a shadow during junior year of high school. I contacted local OB/GYNs (I was always interested in this field and knew I wanted to do it – and still do – but I would highly suggest just branching out) and asked if I could watch over their patient encounters and luckily, one doctor agreed! I shadowed her for about a year and took my own notes, and later used this whole experience to complete my Senior Project a year later. Overall, it was such a great introduction to medicine. Not only did I encounter clinical cases but I also got to experience how a hospital and a medical office works – the different roles each staff member takes in the healthcare setting, how billing works, how the flow of an office works, etc etc.
The summer after that, I began scribing for another OB/GYN office. Word of mouth from the previous doctor I shadowed got out that I was a bright and intelligent student eager to learn, so her former colleague took me in as a scribe. This was the first time I had an actual “job” so to speak and wasn’t just a fly on the wall. For the first couple of weeks, I was asked to just write down every part of the patient encounter (and any procedures if they were done) into a scribing program called AthenaNet. This threw me into the world of medical jargon. I was used to hearing fancy words being thrown around when I started shadowing, but this time around it was my job to write them down and find the appropriate time to use them. After a couple of weeks, I was asked to start doing *more* than just scribing. And this is where things became fun. A couple of the staff left unexpectedly and the office suddenly became short staffed. It started off with the doctor asking me if I could check vitals when all the patients first arrived. Then, I was asked to start taking patient histories. Then, I started measuring fetal heart rates, prepping the rooms for procedures, etc. I was practically a medical assistant at this point – and it was awesome! I saw and did everything – well not everything or that would be illegal! It’s funny now that I am actually a medical student because one of the first things we were taught was how to take patient histories. Let’s just say I knew how to take one perfectly.
When I started college, I signed up for a Global Brigade in Honduras. I didn’t want to join my school’s, so I hopped on to University of Toronto’s medical and dental brigade. I want to dedicate a whole other post to this experience because this was the big life changer for me, so I will just mention it here. This was the opportunity that gave me the most hands on experience – I pulled teeth, I performed pap smears, assisted over gynecological exams, I took vitals, you name it! I had the most incredible time working as an international volunteer with my fellow friends (Canadians truly are the nicest people!) and have many stories and pictures to share. Post on that coming soon!
In college, I also joined an organization called Flying Samaritans. Because my university was about an hour drive from the Mexican border, this organization was founded to start bringing free medical and dental clinics to the residents of Ensenada, Mexico. Our team drove down to Mexico every month to deliver supplies, set up clinics, and volunteer at them. This ranged from volunteering in triage to assisting in minor procedures. It was a one-of-a-kind opportunity because I was able to develop a relationship with my patients. This was a first for me. Because we saw them monthly, I was able to volunteer over their entire medical journeys. I witnessed drug addicts who used to visit our clinic monthly sober up. I witnessed a teenage girl go from “single mother of two” to “college student”. I witnessed so many beautiful individuals and I still feel so privileged that they let us into their lives.
One of the reasons I chose my university as the place to study was because it was surrounded by hospitals and it had always been my dream to volunteer in a hospital. I started off by volunteering at a birth center and then got put on a waitlist to volunteer at the NICU. Volunteering at the birth center was a pretty standard experience – I was in charge of delivering supplies and checking up on patients. What it did teach me, though, was how to develop repertoire and how to communicate with mommas. I eventually got off the waitlist and was finally able to volunteer at the NICU and get exposure to working with infants, which was awesome because I had plenty of experience with mommas but no experience with babies. Until now. I cared for over 100 infants and changed over a 1000 diapers during my time there.
My last scribing experience was the summer after I graduated from college. I knew I wanted to be able to shadow over surgeries as I had never done that before, so that was my priority when looking for a clinic that was taking scribes. I never found an OB/GYN clinic that was offering this, but eventually found a Urology clinic that was looking for a scribe for a urology surgeon. I decided to take it because of the potential opportunity to shadow over surgeries and I also thought it was time to maybe branch out a little before going into medical school (but I bet you can sense a theme here – apparently, I love medical specialties that involve taking care of patients from the waist down. Go figure!! I really can’t explain it, and I am also horrified just as you are.) Well. Let. Me. Tell. You. This medical office was serving up some grand opportunities because I got into that surgery room baby! And interestingly enough, because of the added clinical experience over the years, I actually knew what I was really doing when I was taking histories and scribing encounters, procedures, management plans, etc. It all came together, finally. Lastly, I also found out that Urology was not for me. But that didn’t take away from my experience there at all! I had the best time and am so glad I took that opportunity to branch off a teeny bit because I left more confident that I love my specialty.
Lastly, if you’re looking for the most “hands-on” experience , then I would suggest becoming a medical assistant or an EMT (or even a phlebotomist!). This requires becoming certified, but can be done during a summer or two if you are really interested. I personally never got certified in anything because it required a hefty fee and I quite enjoyed the work I was already doing with the people I was already working with. But I’ve heard some great stories about students delivering babies during their first day on the job. 🙂