How can an Army Lieutenant premed student get more clinical experience and not just stock shelves and make make beds? That’s the question we cover this week.
[01:23] OldPreMeds Question of the Week:
“I’m a 24-year-old lieutenant in the army serving as a platoon leader for a combat engineer platoon. I’m hoping to apply during the 2019 cycle. I have 28 months left in the army and hope to transition directly into medical school. Here’s what my application looks like right now – a degree in Biology with 3.6 cumulative and science GPA, 250 hours of volunteering in a free clinic in 2012-2013, 250 hours of research experience in 2013, 100 hours of shadowing experience in 2014, working part-time throughout college as ROTC. Currently stationed in Texas, we’ll be applying to Texas Medical Schools.”
Note: GPA will be slightly higher because in the Texas application, they don’t count pluses or minuses. So if you get an A minus or B plus, that equals an A and a B.
“I’ll be taking stats and two upper level bio classes in the Fall 2018 to fulfill Texas medical school requirements and get letters of recommendations. Taking the MCAT in June of 2018. Currently, I’m looking for volunteer opportunities to gain more clinical experience. I volunteered at a hospital in the past. But the volunteers were delegated housekeeping roles and not put into patient care experiences.
I recently have been looking for volunteer opportunities and would very much like to experience how an emergency room operates. I’m worried I will end up simply restocking bedding and copying paperwork again. Is this just the experience I should expect from volunteering? How does one gain meaningful clinical experience form stocking shelves or manning an information desk. I understand showing my curiosity about the medical professions with those around me will allow more insight into the minutia of working in healthcare. But that still seems far removed from the clinical experience that is so necessary to really understanding what being a physician is about.
What should I be looking for when trying to find volunteering opportunities that allow me clinical experience?
Are shadowing hours considered different than clinical hours?
And is my lack of volunteering non healthcare related settings a major flaw in my application?”
[04:00] Taking The MCAT Too Early
You’re hoping to apply during the 2019 cycle but you’re taking the MCAT in June 2018. That’s very early. Don’t rush taking the MCAT. If you’re not applying to June 2019, there’s no need to take it in June 2018. What I always recommend is take it at the latest March or April of the year you’re applying. So if you’re applying in 2019 then take it March or April of 2019. You can take it earlier, like January of 2019. But there’s really no reason to rush it.
[05:06] Where to Get Clinical Experience
One of my favorite things for clinical experience is hospice. But not every hospice organization will allow you direct patient care. Not every medical school considers hospice clinical experience. It’s a catch-22 there.
I would also suggest leaning on your connections. A a platoon leader in the army, go find some platoon surgeon or some flight surgeons. Tell them you’re applying to medical school and you need some experience. Ask if they could help you out with it. I have worked with a lieutenant in the Air Force this year and I suggested that she did the same thing. So go talk the chief medical person in the clinic and lay out your cards. As a result, that student was able to take vitals of patients coming in and take some histories. She got to do some other things in the military medical clinic. So use that connection you have with the military and go to the Army clinic if there’s one on base or wherever you’re at. Then try to build those connections there.
Moreover you can go to emergency rooms and get good clinical experience. But you need to set those expectations upfront to let them know what you’re looking for. And if what they’re providing doesn’t match that, then say thanks but no thanks. Then go and try to find another place. There are other opportunities inside of hospitals outside of the emergency department. They allow a little bit clinical experience as well.
Another amazing clinical experience is scribing. It does take time and it’s a job. And obviously, being in the military, you’ll probably need some clearance to allow you to work another job. But this is something else to think about.
[07:30] Shadowing versus Clinical Experience
Shadowing is different than clinical experience. In clinical experience, you’re interacting with patients. A fun term we like to use in the advising world is “close enough to smell the patients.” Every physician does it a little bit differently but the standard of shadowing is very passive. So it’s very different and you need both. It’s important to have clinical and shadowing.
For this student, his shadowing and volunteering in a free clinic are old. That’s going to be a red flag for medical schools. If you apply and your experiences are that old, they’re going to question whether or not this is truly what you want to do. Why have you taken so much time to put yourself around patients again? So I would highly recommend that. Even you’ve had a hundred hours of shadowing which is perfect but it’s from 2014. It’s been three years. So I recommend you continue and get more shadowing experience. And get that clinical experience.
[09:04] Volunteering in a Non Healthcare Related Setting
Your lack of volunteering in non healthcare related settings is not a major flaw. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. But you, being a lieutenant in the army, trumps everything else. That experience or background is perfect. So don’t worry about trying to pile in a ton of other non healthcare related volunteering as well.
[09:37] Final Thoughts
If you have questions, I’d love for you to check out OldPreMeds.org. Sign up for an account. Ask questions. Let the community help and let me help you here on the podcast. Next week, we talk about whether or not you should tell other people that you’re on this journey.