Shadowing & Volunteering
Prospective medical students are expected to spend time shadowing a physician (or, at the very least, another licensed healthcare professional). Specifically, this means hands-off observation only. It is important that you do not engage in any activity that could be construed as the practice of medicine. The idea behind shadowing is to learn the nuances of patient-care that may not be apparent from what is shown on television or in books. Outside of interacting with and treating patients, physicians have a lot of responsibilities that may include running a business, teaching, or doing research.
Most medical schools do not require a specific number of shadowing or observation hours, however, competitive applicants usually have at least 100 hours. Students should also aim for getting a variety of experiences with physicians in various fields. Ideally, students should build a good relationship with at least one M.D. or D.O., as it will be important to request a letter of recommendation once you begin the application process.
Volunteering is a large portion of the medical school application which should not be neglected. Medical schools are looking for students who not only demonstrate that they can manage rigorous courses while staying busy, but also those who are compassionate, enjoy working with people and show direct evidence of their dedication to serving their community. Volunteering can be done in a clinical setting such as a hospital or hospice, but it can also be done with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, or anything other organization (on-campus or off-campus) that the student is passionate about. Medical schools are looking for students that show depth of commitment and substantial involvement and leadership in the community.
If attempting to volunteer at a local hospital or clinic (e.g., Piedmont Athens Regional or St. Mary's Hospital), it is important to be mindful of deadlines and requirements. Most hospitals and clinics have a specific time-window each year that they accept and train potential volunteers. Further, most require volunteers to pass background checks and have up-to-date immunizations and tuberculosis testing. It is your responsibility to research deadlines and requirements when seeking out volunteer opportunities.
Student Volunteer Opportunities
Many student organizations champion humanitarian and community volunteer activities: