A pre-med definitely has a lot on their plate. They must remember to keep up their grades, take the MCAT, fulfill specific course requirements, conduct research, have clinical experience, volunteer, shadow, obtain letters of recommendation, have a social/healthy life, and, on top of all that, find a way to distinguish themselves from other medical school applicants.
However, through my journey, I have noticed an understanding that a lot of pre-meds come to at the end of their journey instead of the beginning. When writing their medical school applications and interviewing, some applicants realize they never hit an important “checkbox” that they needed in their application. Simply, a lot of pre-meds forget or underemphasize the importance of patient contact.
This factor is important for a couple of reasons. As pre-meds write their essays and interview, they are faced with the question of why do they want to go into medicine or go down the MD degree route. The common answers are helping people and love for science. However, one can find these factors in many other jobs. What they eventually come to realize is that the distinguishing factor for an MD is that they are involved in patient contact. Doctors are the bridge between science/medicine/technology and the patient. Thus, as some pre-meds forget to emphasize patient contact in their application, they are stuck in how to answer the why medicine questions in their medical school applications.
The second reason why patient contact is so important to intentionally include in your application is that this will be the source of content for your medical school essays. A distinguishing factor in medical school applications are the essays. One of the strongest ways, if not the strongest way, to approach them is by retelling stories that happened to you. If you are able to ground those experiences and lessons in stories about patients, you will be a better candidate for medical school.
So, what does this all mean for you?
While your academics are your most important pre-med priority, at the top of your priority list should be having patient contact in a clinical setting. The best way to do this is by having some medical authority where you are actually caring for a patient. The reason being that you want to show medical schools that you weren’t just “along for the ride” but that you know how to interact with patients and assist them in meaningful ways.
The experiences I most highly recommend to hit all of these points I have mentioned is being an EMT in an ambulance or ER department, becoming a medical assistant at a local clinic or doctor’s office, working as a certified nursing assistant, or volunteering as a patient foreign language interpreter. Another great opportunity, albeit a little shorter, is going on a medical service trip over Spring break or Winter break that allows you hands on patient contact.
If you are not able to attain the above positions, I would recommend trying for these lesser meaningful positions (with respect to patient contact): hospice volunteering, hotline counseling, vaccine drive volunteer, medical scribe and others.
One thing to remember is that shadowing is not sufficient patient contact and clinical experience. You are simply following around the doctor and have no real meaningful interaction with the patients. I would also like to point out that this is also the bulk of what medical scribes do. Thus, I actually recommend not doing a medical scribe position unless you really have to.