Exploring Academic and Career Interests through Summer Experiences

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Editor's note: SMDEP has changed to the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP). You can find more information at www.shpep.org.

For most students, summer is a time to relax and decompress but it also can be opportunity to explore career interests, develop new skills, and build relationships. We connected with two alumni of the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) to hear about their summer experience and the importance of summer opportunities.

SMDEP alum (2011), Oscar Paniagua-Morales, is a rising senior biology major. This summer he wanted to expand his research skills so conducted research as part of the Johns Hopkins Summer Internship Program. Oscar says, “I pursued this program because I wanted to understand the relationship between medicine and research. I wanted to learn how medical discoveries are translated from the laboratory into the medical wards.”

In addition to making connections between research and actual patient care, Oscar liked that this opportunity enriched his normal coursework. “It is good to sit through college lectures, but learning how to apply the concepts learned in class to real life is more important. From my experience, I learned a lot and gained more respect for the scientific community."

Exploring career interests in the summer is not solely for those interested in research. SMDEP alum (2007) and second-year medical student, Valerie Pierre, spent the summer exploring interests in public health and health policy as an intern at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). She worked on a Center for Disease Control (CDC) Public Health Collaborative project.

Valerie says, “I wanted to figure out if I like health policy and public health work, and if this could be something I consider pursuing as part of my career. As a medical student, this experience has given me the opportunity to enhance my learning about this field outside of the classroom and provided me with a more robust knowledge base about what the AAMC does and their influence on the changing landscape of healthcare in America.”

Oscar and Valerie both encourage other people interested in summer experiences to try to enjoy and see the positives in all of your research and professional experiences because they are opportunities for growth. Valerie said it best when she commented, “as you advance in your education and career, you may never know how much or when a relationship or certain experience can be useful to you in your future career aspirations and have a great impact or influence on your life.”

How Can You Find a Great Summer Opportunity?

  • Use your networks (friends, family, academic advisors, membership organizations, etc.). Valerie attended a conference on health policy where she met one of the speakers and later was able to secure her internship through that contact. Most SHPEP participants report they heard about the program from a peer, friend or academic advisor.
  • Search databases from trusted sources. Both the AAMC and Explorehealthcareers.org have a database with a variety of summer opportunities for all levels (K-12 and higher).
  • Simplicity is effective. Oscar found his summer opportunity through a Google search.

When to Apply

Knowing when to apply is equally as important as where you find your summer opportunity. Most programs start accept applications in the late fall in preparation for the next summer. Deadlines for applications are often in the spring (March and April) but many programs have rolling admission, so don’t wait until spring to look for your summer experience!


Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP)

SHPEP is a free six-week academic enrichment summer program for qualified freshmen and sophomores from racial and ethnic groups that have been historically underrepresented.

Learn More

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