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Summer Activities for the Prospective Premed Student
If you’re a high school student who’s serious about pursuing a premed track in college, you probably have your school year routine down. You’re likely to be taking heavy course loads, including AP biology, chemistry, and calculus. After school, you may have Science Olympiad or Math Club. Perhaps there is a leadership position or weekend volunteer work fit in there somewhere. There’s no doubt that you successful doctors of tomorrow are setting your sights high today.
But what do you do when the AP exams are over and school lets out for the summer? How can you keep your momentum headed towards your goal or otherwise use your time productively? An empty summer sprawling before you can seem overwhelming at first, but if you think of this rare, unstructured time as an opportunity for growth, you’ll no doubt find valuable ways to pass the summer months.
Summer activities should serve two primary purposes.
First, as you’re probably already thinking, your summer plans should build the strength of your college application. This means you should think about activities that build on your existing academic profile. Your summer pursuits should confirm dedication in areas in which you’ve already built strength over time, or they should fill in some blanks. If you are a strong student athlete with leadership skills on and off the field, you might reinforce this by spending your summer coaching youth sports. Or, if you’re a strong student, but you have not participated in a service project, you may spend the summer seeking out opportunities to give of your time and energy to others.
The second goal of summer activities is to experiment with different possible career and educational paths. If you’re interested in a premed path, you should seek out summer activities that allow you to further explore these pursuits. Use the summer as the time for trying on different hats within the health services fields to see what fits you best.
Here are five smart summer activities for prospective premed students.
1. Volunteer/Service Work
This is one field in which there is definitely no shortage of opportunities for volunteer work, both locally and abroad.
If you are looking locally, it might be harder to find opportunities in a clinical setting due to your age, but health services don’t end when someone leaves the hospital. There are plenty of opportunities available in education and outreach programs. For example, you can teach children about healthy eating or participate in awareness campaigns for public safety, like seatbelt use or the fight against obesity.
Though these might not seem as exciting as directly interacting with patients and participating in their care, the work is just as relevant and will give you a good idea of the common public health obstacles faced on a daily basis by health care professionals. To find a local opportunity, start networking. Talk with anyone you know in the healthcare field, or with your own healthcare providers. Many are involved with outreach and community service projects, and will be happy to direct you.
If you want to get more hands-on, there are often actual clinical experiences available through study abroad summer programs, mostly in developing countries. Though these will definitely give you a much more tangible medical experience and may seem more exciting or relevant, you should think carefully before committing to one.
First, consider the financial feasibility of such an experience. Many are expensive, especially once you add in international airfare. Is this a practical choice for you financially? Second, these types of experiences can be emotionally draining. You are working with real people experiencing health crises and your ability to help them will be limited by supplies, resources, and experience. Are you mentally prepared to deal with this? Finally, these experiences are often somewhat superficial, lasting only a short period of time and not fully integrating you into the communities you are serving. As made clear by Harvard’s recent Making Caring Common campaign, it can be difficult to have a meaningful experience when you don’t have the time to form relationships with the people and community around you.
For the most meaningful experience, think of what matters to you. Do you have a grandparent in assisted living? Do you know a child who struggles with a learning disability? What public health issues face your community? Think of a personal connection and then think of how you might work to help. If there are no existing service projects, create your own. Maybe you could organize high school students to visit the assisted living facility for a regular night of board games, or to deliver home-cooked meals. Perhaps you could mentor struggling students or organize a car seat safety event. A personal connection will make it easier for you to find real purpose in your project and build steady commitment to it over time.
2. Medical/Clinical Work
Though your age may prevent you from working hands on with patients, that does not mean that you won’t be able to find a role in a clinical setting. Some health care facilities will hire students for things like delivering meals or making beds. These tasks might sound trivial, but doing any work in a healthcare setting will expose you to what happens behind the scenes to keep things moving smoothly.
Another relevant way to gain experience in a clinical setting is to shadow practitioners in different specialties. You can start by networking through friends or your own doctors. Once you have shadowed one healthcare professional for a few weeks to experience the ins and outs of what he or she does each day, you can ask for him or her to connect you with someone in another specialty. This is a great way to get an idea of what different health care professionals do on a day-to-day basis.
While you’re at it, take the opportunity to ask them thoughtful questions about their work. Find out why they went into medicine, how they chose a specialty, how they recommend that you prepare for a career in the health sciences, or anything else you’re wondering. Now is your chance to get advice from someone who’s been in your shoes.
3. Summer Research
Summer research opportunities in high school are sometimes a bit of a pipe dream. They are often one of the first ideas that may cross your mind when planning summer activities for your premed path, but they can be hard to come by. It’s easiest to find these opportunities if you already have an existing connection.
For example, perhaps you have a mentor from a recent science project who can help to coordinate some lab work for you. Or maybe you have kept in touch with the adviser from your Science Olympiad team. In any case, unless you live in an area where there are many scientific labs with research opportunities, you will probably have to create your own opportunity. You can read our advice on finding a scientific mentor in CollegeVine’s “How to Choose a Winning Science Fair Project Idea”.
4. Summer Programs
Academic summer programs seem like an obvious choice for aspiring premed students, and they can certainly give you a boost on your college application. Many programs will expose you to coursework required of premed students, give you practical experiences in medicine, and even provide hands-on lab training. But there is another, often-overlooked benefit to these programs that you should consider: summer programs give you the opportunity to form lasting connections with the academic faculty at top colleges and universities.
Don’t choose your program based solely on its prestige or convenience. Instead, consider which schools you might like to attend as a college student and explore what programs they have to offer. Creating a lasting relationship with the science faculty and staff at schools you’re interested in attending can give you a solid advantage when you apply for admissions. Make sure to keep in touch with these mentors after the program and use them as resources during the admissions process.
5. Become Involved with HOSA-Future Health Professionals
HOSA-Future Health Professionals, formerly known as Health Occupations Students of America, is a “national career and technical student organization endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and the Health Science Technology Education Division.” It is composed of students, along with professional, alumni, and honorary members, and aims to promote career opportunities in the health care industry and to enhance the quality of healthcare for all.
The program provides a mix of leadership development, motivation, and recognition for students pursuing careers in health professions. It hosts competitive events, national leadership conferences, and state conferences. It also provides a list of internships available in the industry.
If your school does not yet have a branch of HOSA-Future Health Professionals, you can read about creating your own affiliation here.
For the academically-motivated student who thrives in the structure of a school environment, an unplanned summer can seem daunting. But summer should be a time to step back from the everyday tensions of homework, back-to-back extracurriculars, and exam deadlines. You can be productive over the summer without overextending yourself and it is an ideal time to explore your career aspirations. For prospective premed students, choosing one of the opportunities above and pursuing it deeply will not only look good on your college application. It will also help you to learn about your own goals and ambitions through real world experiences.
If you are a high school student who is considering your options for summer activities, find more information from CollegeVine here:
For more information about premed programs, check out these CollegeVine articles: