Where to Volunteer
If you plan to volunteer in the Boston area, here are a few hospitals where our students have enjoyed their volunteer work:
- Newton-Wellesley Hospital
- Brigham and Women’s Hospital
- BWH Medical Career Volunteer Exploration Program -“designed to give college pre-medical, first year medical, and post baccalaureate students an opportunity to gain exposure to the hospital environment in order to help them make informed career decisions. The program features a rotation of assignments which build experience and culminates in a letter of reference and a set of rounds with a physician.”
- Massachusetts General Hospital
- Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital
- Children’s Hospital Boston
- Dana Farber Cancer Institute
- Tufts - New England Medical Center
In choosing extracurricular activities, keep in mind that Admissions Committees at the various health profession schools are looking for students who have explored their motivation for a career in health care. It is important for you to discover if interacting with sick people is a good fit for you. You may love science and want to help people, but working with individuals who are ill or in pain takes a special type of person.
Medical and health professions schools prefer candidates who have had some basic experience in the field through volunteering, internships, shadowing, or working in an office. Dental schools look for applicants who have direct dental experience; veterinary schools require that students spend time in a clinical setting, and prefer candidates with both large- and small-animal experience. Ultimately, applicants any health profession will greatly enhance their chances of being admitted if they have had this kind of experience in their chosen profession, as well as a letter of recommendation from a professional in the field. There are countless ways to gain clinical experience – here are a few that our students tend to pursue:
Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) – the Brandeis Emergency Medical Corps (BEMCO) is a student-run first-response service on campus. Students can train for EMT certification on campus, and then serve a number of 24-hour shifts responding to campus emergencies. EMT training is available through other venues as well, and an EMT license can be used working for other employers, including local fire departments. Certification processes vary by state.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) – this is often overlooked as a possibility, but becoming a CNA provides great training, and allows very close patient contact. Training programs to become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) can be found through the Red Cross, community college or through medical facilities themselves. Once you’re certified, you can work in assisted living facilities, hospitals, mental health facilities – basically anywhere that nurses may be found. You could easily become certified during a summer vacation, and then find paid, patient-care focused employment for the rest of your academic career. Learn more about becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant.Hospital Volunteer – the area hospitals are always looking for volunteers. Some have established volunteer programs for college students, and most will have a Volunteer Coordinator who can help you gain a position. The rule of thumb is that about 100 hours of service will give you a reasonably sustained view of what goes on in the hospital. The more patient care and observation of hospital staff you can get, the better. So, working in an Emergency Department, or playing with children in Pediatrics, for example, would be more meaningful than working in the Gift Shop, or doing data entry tasks. Most volunteer positions are fairly basic at first, but as you get to know the doctors, nurses and other staff, and show your enthusiasm, trustworthiness and interest in the environment, you may gain access to more hands-on opportunities.
Shadowing – Shadowing can be formal or informal, long-term or for a single day. Shadowing basically refers to working one-on-one with health professionals to see what they do in a “regular” work day (or week, or other time period). Shadowing differs from a formal volunteer program in that you’ll work directly with the health care professional to determine your level of participation, and what you hope to gain from the experience. Most shadowing occurs when the student is already familiar with the health care professional; for instance, you may know some doctors who are family friends, or your pediatrician may be willing to let you work with him or her for some amount of time. Shadowing is most useful when you have a chance to interact with patients, observe procedures, or otherwise have a fairly hands-on role. Due to HIPAA and hospital regulations, shadowing can be difficult to do without previous contacts. Medical schools recognize this; therefore, while it can be a good experience, it is not required for medical school. Keep in mind that shadowing should also not be the only health care experience you have engaged in prior to applying. Not all shadowing is "clinical experience" - if you have questions about this, please contact a Pre-Health Advisor.
Health Care Internships – Internships differ from shadowing and volunteer work in the formality, and the compensation for your participation. Internships can be paid or unpaid, and the amount of time and level of responsibility also varies widely. Internships tend to have specific learning goals that you are meant to gain from your experience. If you take an internship for credit, which is possible through the Hiatt Career Center, you’ll be expected to reflect on the experience through formal activities, such as journaling or writing papers. There are a wealth of internships available, in clinical work, research, and many other medically-relevant venues. To learn more about internships, sign up to meet with a Career Counselor and attend some of the fantastic Hiatt programs! If specific internships are brought to the attention of the Health Professions Advising office, we pass them on to you through the Pre-Health listserv.
Summer Medical and Dental Education Programs (SMDEP). SMDEP is a free (full tuition, housing, and meals) six-week summer medical and dental school preparatory program that offers eligible students intensive and personalized medical and dental school preparation. The programs include academic enrichment activities, clinical exposure, and other activities. Each program site creates their own standards for eligibility, and applications are accepted on a rolling basis.
If you are considering getting some clinical experience abroad either on your own, through study abroad, or as a part of a student, please read the following document published by the AAMC: