In addition to your academic pursuits, it is very important that prehealth students also get experience outside of the classroom. For postbacc students, the two primary areas of interest are clinical experience and research experience. In this section, you will find resources to help you locate and obtain your own experiences. As a postbacc student at NYU, you will also have access to opportunities listed in our weekly e-newsletter, as well as the resources at the Wasserman Center for Career Development.
It is extremely important that students intending to enter a healthcare profession have extended experience in a clinical setting. You may have stellar grades, fantastic test scores, or even extensive research experience, but if you have not set foot in a hospital or clinic you will not be taken seriously as a candidate. Clinical experience enables students to truly connect with the work, enabling you to more clearly articulate why you want to enter the health profession, and facilitating relationships with healthcare professionals who will hopefully be able to write you a recommendation when the time comes to apply to a health profession school. This is particularly important for postbacc students because professional schools will be concerned about your recent change of career and life plans. You should be well informed about the career decision you are making. Many students also find that their clinical experience helps them to stay motivated throughout the long hours of study – keeping them connected to their purpose.
There are countless ways in which you can acquire experience. While there is no mandated number of hours for clinical work, you should aim to complete at least one sustained experience over the course of several months. Students primarily gain this experience by volunteering in hospitals, though paid work is also valuable – if you are already working in a health care setting, you should plan to continue doing so while you take classes. For volunteering, our location in New York City opens up a world of opportunities: there are 20 hospitals in Manhattan alone, in addition to clinics, nursing homes, and other facilities. You might volunteer in one of the following positions, among other things:
- Personal services for patients, like reading aloud or writing letters
- Escorting patients to and from activities
- Assisting occupational and physical therapists
- Assisting with art therapy programs
- Assisting chaplains
- Providing entertainment, such as music, magic, or comedy, to adults or children
- Playing with children and babies
- Tutoring pediatric patients
- Interpreting for patients who do not speak English
- Patient counseling and advocacy
Through volunteer positions, students are often exposed to opportunities to shadow doctors, view surgeries, and more. Our office will provide resources to make this search as easy as possible. The time commitment will vary depending on the facility or program, but the typical range is from 3 to 6 hours per week for a period of 3 to 6 months. Pre-vet students should keep in mind that they need even more extensive experience, particularly with large animals.
Important things to note/tips from previous students:
- Begin your search for a volunteer position early, and be persistent: There are frequently several steps you must complete to get started as a volunteer such as, filling out forms, getting TB tests, attending long orientations, rearranging your schedule, and waiting for someone to return your call.
- Make sure you are healthy and immunized: Most facilities require that volunteers have received a physical exam within the previous 12 months, have a PPD test for tuberculosis, and immunizations for tetanus, chicken pox, measles, mumps, and rubella.
- Ask around: friends, family, fellow students and even your physician can be great resources to help you find the opportunity that will work best for you.
- Ask questions: your clinical experience is your time to LEARN, and people are always happy to talk about their jobs. Students who ask a lot of questions and don’t let shyness get in the way usually get the most out of the experience.
- Stick with it: Once you find a position that works for you, commit to that shift through the rest of your postbacc education. Medical schools look favorably at candidates who have sustained experience at one institution; the longer you stay in a position the more you learn, and the deeper your relationships with the healthcare professionals around you become. It is ok, however, if you need to try a few different options before you find one that works for you.
The primary research opportunities available to postbacc students are clinical research experiences, which are frequently done as part of clinical volunteering work. Most postbacc students spend their bridge year doing more in-depth clinical research. Additionally, previous research experience in any field will count towards your research experience; for example, completing an honors thesis as an economics major at your undergraduate institution. The important thing is that medical schools want to know that you can read research and understand it, that you understand the principles of research and the critical questions being asked.