Pursuing any type of degree is exciting; you’re beginning the journey to adulthood, and therefore, the rest of your life. However, it can simultaneously be daunting and overwhelming, too. Specifically looking at degrees with a pre-health focus or track, there is so much that needs to be done outside of school over the course of the undergraduate years. It can be a lot to process, especially as a new freshman. Mackenzie (‘22, Mill Creek, WA) would like to share a few ways to help organize, prioritize, and process everything that could (and some of it, should) be done to help you best reach your career goals.
1. 3 words applicable to any preparation for a job in the “pre-health world” – start looking early.
This literally applies to everything you do as an undergraduate student. Whether it be planning out the classes you need to take over your four years here, looking for jobs, internships, and experience opportunities, or what your plans are for post-undergraduate years, start looking early. Even if it’s just searching LinkedIn to see what potential positions are out there, or looking on DegreeWorks to see what your major(s) and/or minor(s) require, this is a great start of staying on top of what you need to complete in order to graduate and to move on to whatever your next step is. There will be so many amazing opportunities that come up while you’re here at UP, but you have to do the work and research to find them! You aren’t alone though, your advisers are here to help.
2. Meet with your advisers – they’re here for you!
You aren’t alone in your navigation of what to do, when to do it, how to accomplish it, and where to go to get it done. Lucky for you – there are people on campus who’s jobs are to help you with this! Whether you are overwhelmed with classes, thinking about changing majors, need help with the internship search, or just need general advising, your program counselors are here for you. Just call or come visit our office to make an appointment!
3. Volunteer/Job Shadow
Whether you’re pre-med, pre-PT, or pre-pharmacy, you should consider some type of volunteer or job-shadow work. These are typically unpaid positions, but a great way to “get your foot in the door” and get some experience under your belt. Even if you’re almost positive in what track you want to take, I would personally encourage you to do some general volunteer work first. This will give you a basic feel for what it’s like to be in a clinic, hospital, or office of some sort, and will provide you with the opportunity to see what you like and don’t like. If you are absolutely, 100% confident in what path you want to pursue, then job shadowing might be the better option for you. This is a chance for you to get to see, first-hand, what a professional in your field of interest does on a daily basis. These are both great starts to get some basic experience in the “pre-health world,” and will hopefully open many doors to new relationships and opportunities down the road.
Internships are a great way to get more experience toward your end career goal, and typically look even better than volunteering or job shadowing on an application or resume. Many jobs, and even some undergraduate degrees, require internships in order to be considered for employment or to be able to graduate. Some are paid, and others are not, so it’s really up to you to decide what you’re looking for. Some people are interested in an internship even if it is unpaid because they just want the experience or are really interested in what the position entails. Others don’t like this, for many reasons. For example, some people may need a paid internship in order to continue getting income. Internships will most likely be what you’re looking at during the second half of your undergraduate career, such as after sophomore year.
Networking is critical in building a strong foundation for your future career. It is never too early to start networking, even if it is just in your general social circle. I came into UP as a pre-health student with no family members or connections to the healthcare field, and was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to find connections because of this. However, through the CAS 101 class as well as meeting with my adviser, I learned that I had many more connections than I thought. We had an assignment in the class in which we were to list 10 people in our current networking circle, and after I completed that, I realized that the people I do know may have connections to someone in my desired career field, and so on. Getting in contact with professionals in the healthcare field is important, if not critical in the undergraduate process.
This year, we had a doctor from OHSU come to speak to us in the CAS 101 class. He offered his email and phone number to us and told us that we could contact him if we had any questions. I reached out and asked if there were any PA’s that he knew in which I could get into contact with and ask some questions. He connected me to one, and me and this PA ended up meeting for coffee for a couple hours and talking about the profession and such. It was super helpful to me in paving my path for what I want to do in my undergraduate career, as well as figuring out if the physician assistant route was the best career choice for me. I highly suggest taking advantage of opportunities like this that come to you, as they are super beneficial in your career search and own learning.
6. Explore other paths
Although your heart may be set on being a doctor, dentist, or vet, it’s important to keep an open mind to other career options, too. I am currently on a PA track, but am also still looking into the pharmacy route as well. Thankfully, many of the required courses for the healthcare field are similar (such as intro bio, general chemistry, organic chemistry, etc.), so it isn’t necessary to declare a path right as you enter college. Take the time to explore options outside of your desired path, because you might find that something else interests you, too!
7. Get a job that somewhat correlates to your career interests
I always hear that college is a time for you to figure out “who you are.” On the academic/career side of this, college is a time for you to figure out why it is that you want to pursue what you’re pursuing. (And, as a bonus, this is a super common question to appear on grad school applications for whatever healthcare profession you end up choosing). Sure, we all enjoyed science and math classes in high school, I don’t think we’d be pursuing a career in healthcare if we didn’t! However, everyone has their own personal reason(s), too, for why they’re pursuing a specific career. I highly encourage you to take part in jobs that have to do with this passion, or to help you find this reason. For example, if you want to be a doctor because you want to play a role in helping serve low-income populations, then you could look into a volunteer opportunity with this. Starting to take part in activities that are correlated to your career early on will be super helpful when writing that application for grad school, as well as for your own personal benefit and growth!
8. Explore different grad school options
It’s never too early to begin looking at potential places that you would like to apply for graduate school at. Especially you pre-med students – you could potentially be applying to med school as early as your junior year. This is by no means an urgent priority as you enter college, but keeping it on your radar could be beneficial.
9. Lastly, don’t stress!
I know this was a lot of information and probably made you very overwhelmed, as you’re already dealing with all of the other preparation for college. Fear not! Contradicting everything that I just stated above, you have time. So don’t worry about all of this too soon! Keep it in the back of your mind, and maybe even find time once a week or a few times a month to sit down and look into these things. Don’t let it freak you out though, and certainly focus on your classes and getting into a routine during your freshman year. A lot of these things will come naturally along the way 😊