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Medical Student Perspective: Gaining Summer Experience

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Summer can be a great time to gain valuable experiences and exposure to the field of medicine.

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Whether you volunteer, shadow a doctor, or work as a scribe or EMT (just to name a few), your summer experiences can give you an opportunity to explore your interests and what it’s like to have a career in medicine.

Suhba Hanif, a medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, explains the importance of gaining experience over the summer:

“When thinking about your summer experience, the most important thing to remember is that there isn't a right or a wrong summer experience. Instead, it’s more important to enjoy the experience. Many pre-med students are driven by their research interests, others have a commitment to service and giving back to the community through volunteering, and some are excited to travel to various parts of the world to learn more about themselves or take part in medically-related service. Whatever motivates you, it’s about the quality and excitement of the work you’re doing and what you can reflect upon when applying for medical school. Remember, medical school admissions committees are interested in learning more about you as an applicant and what your interests are rather than making sure you have checked everything off the list.”

We asked Subha and other medical students to share their summer experiences while they were a pre-med and what they learned from that summer.

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Volunteering Abroad

To explore the field of Planetary Health, I volunteered full-time for six weeks in Indonesia for Health in Harmony, an NGO that seeks to join environmental stewardship with affordable healthcare in small, rural village communities in Southwestern Borneo. In addition to working with the conservation team to build wildlife corridors, I shadowed doctors in the medical clinic alongside fourth year medical students, gaining valuable exposure to clinical medicine. Working for an organization whose mission combines environmental sustainability with access to care for underserved populations was invaluable to me as a bridge between my previous experience in ecology and my choice to pursue a career as a physician.

-Stefan Wheat, University of Vermont College of Medicine, class of 2018

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Shadowing and Research

After I graduated from college, I spent the summer as a Research Study Assistant within the Department of Medicine at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. At the hospital, I had the opportunity to shadow several doctors on rounds and observe interactions between the physicians, their teams, and their patients. Also during my summer, I assisted with research on rare cancers. I learned there’s a great need to fully explore the genetic abnormalities linked to these cancers, as well as the growing body of tumor markers associated with them. Assisting oncologists in their clinical trials confirmed my desire to keep people fighting. It was a humbling and inspiring experience for me, and certainly was one which provided me the much needed perspective on medicine before starting medical school.

-Ogochukwu M. Ezeoke, SUNY Upstate Medical University, class of 2019

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Hospital Temp

I took a gap year between college and starting medical school and had an amazing experience working for the Bulfinch Temporary Service with Partners Healthcare in Boston. This temp position allowed me to work in various different departments of Massachusetts General Hospital. Most temp positions are month-long experiences, so it gave me the opportunity to see the inner-workings of multiple departments I was interested in. While these positions were mostly administrative, it gave me a perspective of the non-clinical side of medicine before entering the field. For pre-meds looking for a different kind of summer experience, I would encourage those students to look at the hospitals in their area for temp positions available.

-Daniela Marshall, SUNY Upstate Medical University, class of 2019

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Summer Program

A positive summer experience I had was an enrichment program, the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), at the University of Virginia School of Medicine. SMDEP changed the way I thought about medicine and gave me opportunities to learn about myself. I worked with various faculty, shadowed in different specialties, and attend lectures presented by experts in the fields of radiology, cardiology, dermatology, neurology, and more. Not only did I network with specialists and students from every state in the country, I was also able to receive tips on how to tackle the MCAT, make my resume more competitive, and discover what my real passion in medicine was. It was through SMDEP that I discovered I had a genuine interest in health care disparities, minority health, and public policymaking in the health care field. 

-Subha Hanif, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, Class of 2018

As you can see, there are many different experiences that will help give you insight into a medical career, spark your passion for learning, and help shape you as a future physician.  As Subha put it, “No matter what you decide to do in the summer make sure that you genuinely enjoy it. Medicine is a truly rewarding experience and the best physicians are those who have a passion for learning and enjoying the work they do!”

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