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4 Steps Premeds Should Take to Maximize Volunteer Clinical Experience

It’s no secret that clinical experience is one of the most important aspects of a successful medical school application. Any admissions committee reviewing a medical school application wants to know that the person they are considering has carefully explored the field of medicine and is making an informed decision to enter the profession.

Admissions committees don’t merely look at whether an applicant has gained clinical experience or how many hours the experience amounts to. They also pay close attention to how the applicant reflects on the experience in writing and describes it in an interview.

Getting the most out of clinical experience can be difficult in busy healthcare environments, where it’s easy to go unnoticed as a premedical volunteer. There are however, measures that volunteers can take to make the experience meaningful, learn about the profession and become better prepared to reflect on their experience when it’s time to apply.

Research medical conditions you see. Every day you are in the clinic or hospital, identify one medical condition in a patient you have seen. Research that condition and get a basic understanding of the pathophysiology, clinical presentation, diagnosis and treatment options available.

[Read: Get Strong Clinical Experiences for Medical School.]

Many hospitals, clinics and universities subscribe to various medical journals . If you saw a patient with rheumatoid arthritis in your last clinic encounter, find a review about the condition in a journal or look at a medical textbook to learn more about this illness.

You may not understand everything you read, but this exercise will give you an introduction to medical science, help you develop curiosity and teach you how to look up medical knowledge on your own, a skill that is crucial to success in medical school. After you have done some basic reading, ask intelligent questions from the physicians you are working with to get further clarification on what you have learned.

Learn about health care systems. Clinical settings are a great place to learn more about the health care system. This knowledge is important because many medical school interviewers ask applicants about their views and basic knowledge of the American health care system.

One way to increase your knowledge is to learn about the role of different team members involved in patient care. Occupational therapists, social workers, case managers, dietitians and radiology technicians are just some examples of individuals who are integral to healthcare delivery. If you have the opportunity, speak with these individuals and learn what roles they play in health care delivery.

[Read: 4 Ways to Make Premedical Research Experience Count.]

You can also learn more about the health care system by trying to understand how health care is funded in the United States. If you have the chance, talk to billing and financing staff members at the facility where you are volunteering. Learn about the different insurance plans that pay for healthcare and the programs that support those with limited insurance.

Practice empathy. Take advantage of clinical experiences to talk to patients and understand the challenges they face. This is easier in inpatient settings where patients are not rushing in and out. If you are on a hospital ward, ask patients if they would like to talk. Sit down with them, ask open-ended questions, and allow them to share whatever is on their mind. Practice listening intently, as this is one of the most important skills you can develop.

[Read: Premed Students: Avoid 4 Physician Shadowing Mistakes.]

Take advantage of interactions with patients to also develop greater appreciation for the cultural nuances involved in verbal and non-verbal communication. As you interact with patients from different backgrounds, try to examine the differences in how people from various cultures communicate when sharing their experience of illness. Over time, this exercise will make you more culturally competent.

Keep a journal. Reflect in writing on your clinical experience after every shift you spend in a clinic or hospital by keeping a journal. Did you learn something new about the medical profession? Did you observe an interesting interaction between a physician and patient? Was there something about your experience that drew you further to the medical profession? As you respond to these questions, include concrete examples, but be careful not to include any patient identifiers.

In this process, you will become a better writer, have the chance to reflect more profoundly on your passion for medicine and practice articulating your views about the medical profession. This exercise will also help you tremendously when you are applying to medical school. If you have taken the time to put your ideas down in writing at the time of your clinical experience, you can draw on those writings in your applications and offer a more sophisticated view of the career of a physician.

Taking all of these measures may seem like a lot to handle, but it can go a long way in showing that you are proactive and passionate about the medical profession. The initiative you display in this process will not go unnoticed by the physicians you are working with. When it’s time to write a letter of recommendation to support your medical school application, they will have more to say about you and your candidacy.

More importantly, you will grow tremendously from the experience and become better prepared for the journey of medical school.

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4 Steps Premeds Should Take to Maximize Volunteer Clinical Experience originally appeared on usnews.com