Shadowing & Volunteering
As a prospective medical student, you are expected to spend time shadowing a physician. Specifically, this means hands-off observation only. You should not engage in any activity that could be construed as the practice of medicine if you are not licensed and trained to provide such care. You can find the AAMC's shadowing FAQ here.
The purpose of shadowing is to learn the nuances of patient-care that may not be apparent from what is shown on television or in books. Outside of interacting with and treating patients, physicians have a lot of responsibilities that may include running a business, teaching, or doing research. It is important that you understand the realities of being a physician, so be sure to ask questions and engage with the physician you are shadowing as much as possible. (If you are shadowing a surgeon, try to see more than just what happens in the OR!)
Most medical schools do not require a specific number of shadowing or observation hours; however, competitive applicants usually have around 100 hours. You should aim for getting a variety of experiences with physicians in various fields to gain a better understanding of the breadth of the medical profession. While you should try to shadow specialties that you are interested in, you are not required to have shadowing experiences in any specific specialties. Shadowing opportunities can sometimes be hard to find, so you are encouraged to take advantage of any shadowing experiences.
Ideally, you should build a good relationship with at least one M.D. or D.O., as you will want to request a letter of recommendation once you begin the application process.
Volunteering is an important portion of the medical school application which should not be neglected. Medical schools are looking for you to show depth of commitment and substantial involvement and leadership in the community. You need to demonstrate that you can excel in rigorous courses, but also that you are compassionate and enjoy working with people. Many students say that they want to go into medicine to help people; you must show direct evidence of your dedication to helping and serving the community. You can find the AAMC's volunteering FAQ here.
Volunteering can be done in a clinical setting such as a hospital or hospice, but it can also be done with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Humane Society, or any other organization (on-campus or off-campus) that you are passionate about.
If you are hoping to volunteer at a local hospital or clinic (e.g., Piedmont Athens Regional or St. Mary's Hospital), it is important to be mindful of deadlines and requirements. Most hospitals and clinics have a specific time-window each year that they accept and train potential volunteers. Further, most require volunteers to pass background checks and have up-to-date immunizations and tuberculosis testing. It is your responsibility to research deadlines and requirements when seeking out volunteer opportunities.
Many student organizations champion humanitarian and community volunteer activities: