Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Discussing Caregiving on the Med School App

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Ask Dr. Gray: Premed Q&A: Discussing Caregiving on the Med School App

Session 82

In many cases, caregiving is an amazing way to gain clinical experience in a non-traditional setting. How should you talk about it on your med school application?

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[00:21] Question from Miranda

Miranda is currently a caregiver and doesn’t know how to incorporate this into her application. She has been told to put it in her personal statement because it is a big part of her life. And it has had a lot of influence on a lot of her decisions.

But as far as an extracurricular, it has taken a lot of time away from being able to get more experience with what she wanted to do. So her concern is how to convey this best.

Miranda is not a certified nurse. She graduated from college in North Carolina. She then moved back home to Tampa, Florida to care for her grandmother who has severe memory problems.

[01:57] Caregiving as Clinical Experience

What Miranda is doing is amazing clinical experience even if it’s preventing  her from being in a more traditional setting. In fact, the AAMC has listed it as one of the five ways to get more clinical experience.

“Being a caregiver is great clinical experience.”Click To Tweet

So when Miranda applied to medical school the second time, she had been a caregiver and moved into a family friend’s house. She had bilateral hip or knee surgery. She needed help getting around, taking care of her cats, and doing all other stuff. She lived in her house for a long time.

If it’s a clinical type thing that she’s doing, then she could talk about this 1,000% in herpersonal statement.

If it is relevant to why you want to be a doctor, I would 1,000,000% put it on in your activity list. Talk about it because it will potentially help explain any other gaps in your activities, or work or whatever else. 

[03:54] The Motivation She Got from the Experience

Miranda’s undergraduate degree is in psychology and human services. Part of the reason she really wanted that when she first went to college is because her grandmother lived with them when she was in high school. So she saw her and had to interact with her and help her with a lot of just daily things because she had a lot of high demands in different situations.

It was basically part of her story. It’s amazing to be able to provide for a family member like that. That aspect alone is really nice and then having that activity to help with the medical school application is just the bonus. It’s a little cherry on top.

[05:05] Translating Volunteer Work as a Two-Sport Athlete

When Miranda was in college, she was a two-sport and an NAIA athlete. And she did a lot of volunteer work with her team.

Since she has not tracked her hours at that time, she could just guesstimate how many hours she put in as a two sport athlete. And it’s probably going to be a large chunk of hours as an athlete training 24/7, 365 days for four years. So just do that kind of math.

So just try to estimate everything that you’ve done and you could potentially lump it into one activity. You could say that as a collegiate athlete, you were volunteering as another and then just talk about everything you’ve done as an athlete.

If there is one major thing that you remember that you did, even if it was part of the team, that you want to talk about separately, you could do that as well. 

[07:04] Is Being a NeuroPsychological Technician Clinical Experience?

After college, Miranda also worked as a neuro psychological technician and she did cognitive testing with people who had neurological problems. That’s 1,000% clinical experience.

“It's not super traditional clinical experience, but that's definitely clinical experience.”Click To Tweet

You’re interacting with someone getting this neuro psych testing for whatever reason. Whether it’s a concussion or needing a diagnosis for accommodations, whatever it is, you are interacting in a clinical way with patients.

Miranda recalls she would be with somebody for five hours and she enjoys it. She has a lot of great stories and experiences to pull from that. So that’s definitely clinical experience – and it’s a really good clinical experience.

[08:22] General Rule of Thumb When Writing Personal Statements

“As a general rule of thumb, when students are writing about their experiences, make sure that you're not talking about what you learned from the experience.”Click To Tweet

Try to reflect on and think about why that experience further motivated you to be a physician. That’s the kind of the takeaway that you want to try to drive towards.

Ever since I wrote my book, The Premed Playbook: Guide to the Medical School Personal Statement, I’ve been reviewing other students’ personal statements.

They’ve taken my idea about trying to show how it wasn’t enough and trying to show why they wanted to be a physician, why they want more, and they’re just using those words in that kind of generic way. But I told them that they need to go further than this.

It’s definitely a hard thing to do because any premed student isn’t working as a physician or volunteering as a physician. And so they’re trying to translate what they’re doing as an EMT, as a nurse as, as whatever. They talk about how they love the experience and still need to be a physician. So that’s the trick.

[10:18] Is Pharmacy Tech Clinical Experience?

Miranda worked as a pharmacy technician in Florida as well. She talks about having patient care interaction, but it was more customer service.

“A lot of students get a pharmacy tech position at a retail pharmacy. But in my mind, it's not clinical experience.”Click To Tweet

Not because it’s in a retail setting, but you’re not really acting in a clinical way. So this is not clinical experience. You’re just getting their prescriptions ready and handling their payment. So it’s customer service. It’s a great experience, but it’s not clinical experience.

[13:42] Final Thoughts

When Miranda is asked about what she has done to prepare for medical school by a dean of admissions, she thought she wasn’t able to translate what she wanted to say. She’s trying to get a good grip on that considering she was working seven days a week through undergrad to pay for her boyfriend’s master’s degree. It definitely makes it hard when there are lots of commitments to do.

But Miranda has already shown that she is more than just a premed student, being a two-sport athlete definitely. What she needs to do here is to make sure that she’s going out and enjoying herself.

When you’re doing all this work for your medical school application, you have to do fun things as well to help you avoid burnout. It’s just going to help you with your mindset and overall well being.


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