Obtaining a realistic view of any profession is a critical element in career decision-making, particularly in the health professions. This first-hand knowledge allows a student to learn what happens on the job and to test-drive a career to see if it is indeed a good fit for the student’s interests, abilities, strengths, and values. Professional schools expect that students will volunteer in an office or clinic and will shadow professionals for a significant period of time in order to understand the realities they will face in the future. Sometimes students start volunteering during high school and although this is commendable, schools are most interested in experiences that occur during the undergraduate years and any years that are between college and matriculation to professional school.
Students will often ask how many hours of clinical related experience they need and what the minimum number of hours is. There is no predetermined answer, but rather each student must accumulate enough hours to obtain information about their chosen career field, the skills needed to do that job effectively, and how the student might fit into that work setting.
Within the United States and Baltimore, there are endless opportunities for observing health practices and shadowing licensed professionals. Although, if a student is interested in global volunteerism, there are serious ethical issues to consider as detailed in the following links: The Risks and Benefits of Medical Volunteerism, How to Volunteer Abroad Ethically and Avoid Scams, AAMC’s Guidelines for PreMedical Students During Clinical Experiences Abroad, Dental Volunteering Abroad and Medical Mission Trips, and ADEA Guidelines for International Predental Experiences.
Given the ethical issues of serving abroad, the US Department of Justice tapped the Forum on Education to establish guidelines for this area. The University of Minnesota developed a GAPS (Global Ambassadors for Patient Safety) Toolkit and online workshop (open access to everyone) to help students understand their roles as global ambassadors for patient safety.
How to Document Clinical-related Hours
Documenting shadowing or other types of clinical-related experiences is very informal. There is no official paperwork to complete, nor is there official paperwork to obtain from the clinic or hospital. Students should track their clinical/shadowing hours in a personal notebook. For each experience, it is suggested that students log the date, number of hours spent observing, the name of the professional(s) they shadowed, the name of the hospital or clinic where the experience took place, and what they learned and observed (in general, what procedures or surgeries did the student observe, what career advice was given by the professional, patient-doctor/dentist relationship observations, unusual diagnoses or patients, etc.)