To find a research position, browse through departments of interest or faculty pages and read previously published papers and current projects. If you find something that catches your eye, send a short but professional email stating your major, how you’d like to get research experience, why their research interests you, and suggest meeting to discuss potential opportunities in their lab. If they are willing to meet, discuss any prior research experience, availability, and goals.
Things to keep in mind:
- Research is not a short term commitment. Basic laboratory training and getting adjusted takes at least one semester. You must have availability for at least a year or two. The longer the better.
- Stay humble. It’s fantastic to have self-confidence, but don’t think that you’re overqualified for any position. Your responsibilities should increase over time if you continuously put in good work. I started by washing and autoclaving equipment, but my mentor began teaching me how to pour media plates, make stock solutions, and create and run EtBr electrophoresis gels and SDS-PAGE gels to purify DNA and protein samples. When I joined my neuroscience lab, I already had prior research experience so I started with more responsibilities. Even though I was able to run behavior tests and assist in surgical procedures, I was still expected to tidy up the lab.
- Be reliable and be respectful. Once offered a position, show up on time and go beyond what is expected. There are others depending on you and your contributions to lab no matter how minute they might seem, so be respectful of their time. Not only that, but be respectful of equipment and space you’re using. These are often shared with other lab members and other labs and can be very expensive to replace.
- Ask questions. Learn as much as you can about the field. Even if it sounds like a silly question, at least you’ll come out of it knowing a little bit more.
Clinical experience is like a movie trailer and can give an idea of your likes and dislikes about different medical specialties and settings. With HIPAA and certification requirements, it can be more difficult to obtain.
Shadowing: Some high school or college hospital volunteer programs allow students to shadow physicians after acquiring a certain number of volunteer hours. Pre-medical student organizations may have connections that allow shadowing or offer week-long trips to other countries to shadow physicians. Reach out to your own physicians to see whether they’ll allow you to shadow them. If you’ve exhausted these options, Google physicians in your area and try calling their office. It may be tedious, but it has worked. There are more shadowing opportunities available in the summer such as the Atlantis Fellowship, which allows students to shadow physicians in various specialties throughout Europe for approximately 20 hrs/week for a minimum of 3 weeks.
Things to Keep in Mind:
- Lengthy commitment. Similar to research, having a long term clinical experience is important as it will give a better picture of how a specialty or medical setting is.
- Plan ahead. If you’ve acquired a provider willing to let you shadow, plan as far as one month in advance so that the provider is able to fit you into their schedule.
- Be professional. This includes dressing professionally (business casual at a minimum or scrubs if necessary), being punctual, and showing proper etiquette.
- Ask questions, but be appropriate. You are there to observe. If you have any questions, wait until the provider is finished examining the patient.
Medical Scribe: Becoming a medical scribe can also provide valuable clinical experience. Unlike shadowing, scribing is a paid position. After a short training period, the scribe accompanies the physician or APP to see patients and documents their visit via electronic medical chart system. While they don’t have direct patient contact, they do most of the medical documentation and keep tabs on lab and imaging results. The aim is to increase efficacy by allowing the provider to see more patients and disposition them in a timely manner. Scribes can work in a variety of specialties such as emergency medicine, urology, gastroenterology, orthopedics, to name a few.
EMS: Training to become EMS personnel is more labor intensive than training to become a medical scribe, but it is rewarding as EMTs can directly interact with patients. While it varies by state, applicants must be at least 18 years of age, pass an EMT course, and not have a criminal background. There are 4 levels that range from 58 hours of training to be a Emergency Medical Responder to 1200 hours of training to become a Paramedic. After the training period, a certifying examination will need to be passed and a license will need to be obtained and maintained. This can be a volunteer or paid position.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): CNAs have direct patient care. They generally work under a nurse and provide basic care in various healthcare settings. They can obtain vitals and weight and height measurements and bathe, dress, and feed patients who require more assistance. While requirements vary by state, applicants need a high school diploma or GED. A training course that is at least 75 hours and examination needs to be completed. This can also be a paid position.