Pre-Health Experiences

Beyond academics, successful applicants are encouraged to be well-rounded. Health professional schools encourage students to pursue the following experiences:

Clinical Experiences

Before pursuing a healthcare program, you must demonstrate that the career is the correct fit for you. It’s not enough to assume that it’s the right fit; admissions committees want to see proof that you’ve explored the profession. You should observe and interact with healthcare providers and patients and understand the full scope of what it means to practice.

Shadowing is a natural starting point for students exploring health professions. Shadowing is a passive act; you observe a healthcare provider in their day to day responsibilities and while you may be able to talk to the provider about the choices they make in their job, you are not directly interacting with or assisting patients. 

Direct patient care experiences allow you to interact with and assist patients. While direct patient care experiences can be volunteer-based or paid, there is typically an application and/or interview process and some training required. You will not be assisting patients at the same level as a healthcare provider, but you will be making an impact on the patient’s health and well-being.

While some health profession programs have minimum direct patient care experience requirements (for example, PA schools typically want to see 1000-4000 hours), other programs do not list a specific number. It’s important to check with the schools you’re applying to to ensure you’re meeting their minimum/average requirements.

You should gain suitable clinical experiences to demonstrate your fit and understanding of the profession. Ideally, you would have at least 150 hours of clinical experiences, with the majority of those experiences being direct patient care. Having more hours of clinical experience is only going to help you be a stronger applicant.

1. Utilize your network: Ask your personal healthcare provider or a family member’s provider if they would be willing to allow you to shadow. If you have friends who have shadowed with a provider, ask for their contact details. Join a student organization and connect with speakers and presenters through that organization. If you work/volunteer in a healthcare setting, ask providers there to connect you with their colleagues. 

2. Reach out to providers in local clinics/hospitals: While this might be daunting, time consuming, and require you to reach out through multiple methods (emailing, calling, or visiting the clinic in person), cast a wide net and be persistent and professional.

3. Connect with alumni: If you have a LinkedIn account, search for George Mason alumni who are in a career that you’re hoping to pursue or who attended a health profession school you might be interested inReach out with a message or connect through LinkedIn. 

In your LinkedIn profile, make sure you have a professional picture, information about your major and career aspirations, and updated contact information. 

Here’s a guide to connecting with alums on LinkedIn.

Other Shadowing Experiences:

Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) Shadowing Database: 

Shadow Physicians at Inova Hospitals

Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) Shadowing Database:

Some healthcare experiences have more patient interaction than others. While non-patient care experiences can be impactful, many health profession programs want to see direct patient care experiencesIn your application, it’s important to include a detailed and accurate overview of your responsibilities and ways that you interact with patients.

  • Please note that some positions require advanced training or certification in order to be eligible for the position. Mason doesn’t offer certifications, but local community colleges, technical colleges, and/or online colleges do.
  • In general, it’s best to look for a patient care position that will work with/under the provider in your field of interest. For example, if you plan to go to medical school, look for a position that works directly with physicians and human patients. While you might gain general healthcare experience working with a dentist, pharmacist, or veterinarian, those are separate career paths from medical school and won’t give you directly relevant experience. 
  • Research patient care positions here to learn more about the responsibilities and training/certification entailed.

Here are some common positions that are and are not considered direct patient care. Please note this is not an exhaustive list and it’s always best to check directly with the schools you plan to apply to.


Direct Patient Care:

Free Clinic Volunteer

Hospice Volunteer

Medical Mission Trip Participant

Rehab or Nursing Center Assistant

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Home Care Health Aide

Nurse’s Aid

EMT/EMS/Rescue Squad


Medical Assistant

Medical Translator


Clinical Research Assistant

Athletic Trainer Assistant

Physical Therapy Assistant

Dental Hygienist

Veterinary or Pharmacy Tech (if counseling patients is involved)


Not Direct Patient Care:

CPR or ACLS instructor

Insurance Clerk

Life Guard

Patient Sitter

Patient Transporter

Pharmaceutical Representative

Researcher with no patient care contact


Ski Patroller

Student Clinical Experience

Unit Clerk

Wilderness Medicine Instructor

Medical Administrative Assistant

Below is a list of local, national, and international opportunities to volunteer in a healthcare setting.


Free Clinics in Virginia


NOVA Free Clinics:

Adams Compassionate Health Care Network, Chantilly:

Loudon Free Clinic, Leesburg:

Prince William Area Free Clinic Unified Health Center, Woodbridge:

Arlington Free Clinic, Arlington:

Mission Life Center – Hope Clinic, Manassas:

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic, Manassas:

Culmore Clinic, Falls Church:



Heartland Hospice:

Capital Caring:

Fairfax Area Agency on Aging: 


Hospital volunteering:


Walter Reid:

Children’s National:


MedStar Washington:


Dental Volunteering –

Mission of Mercy:

NOVA Dental Clinic:


Pre-Vet Volunteering: 

National Zoo: 

Fairfax Animal Shelter:

Fairfax County Humane Society:


Optometry Volunteering:

Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity:​

The Metropolitan Washington Ear:

Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind:


National volunteer opportunities:


International volunteer opportunities:

Virtual clinical experiences will never replace in-person experiences, but they can be a useful way to explore healthcare professions during the pandemic. Once we get back to normal, it will still be very important for you to gain in-person experiences in order to be a competitive applicant. 

Virtual Shadowing Nano Course in Emergency Medicine:  The Virtual Shadowing course is a series of 5 classes in which your student will watch over the shoulder of one of our physicians, nurse practitioners, or PAs as s/he goes bedside in the ED to assess and diagnose a simulated patient.  The video is followed-up by a series of questions posed to the student and then a summary by the physician.  A short quiz on the topic addressed finalizes each class.  The first of the “e-shadowing” sessions is up and ready for student learning.   The virtual shadowing videos are free and if so desired, after successfully completing all five, students can apply for a Certificate of Completion from the University of Colorado School of Medicine for a $50 fee (covering our costs of producing the videos).  Those interested in viewing the first video series please email Bre McKercher at for a link.

Wilderness Medicine Speaker Series:

Medical Virtual Shadowing:

OT Shadowing:

PA Shadowing:

PT Shadowing:

Speech Language Pathology Shadowing:

Volunteer Experiences

To become a healthcare provider, you must not only be academically capable but you must have the heart to care for patients. Professional schools are looking for evidence that you’re altruistic, selfless, and compassionate. Volunteering is a great way to help others in need, serve your local community, and gain perspective and skills that will help you in your future career.


The quality of your volunteering experiences is more important than the quantity. It’s better to find one or two projects that you’re passionate about and have a long-term commitment to those projects, rather than get involved in numerous short-lived projects. 

While it’s important to check the schools you’re applying to to see if they have recommended minimum volunteer hour requirements, you should aim to have at least 150 hours of community service. Having more volunteering hours is only going to help you be a stronger applicant.

Ideally, you would have a variety of volunteering experiences that are both directly and indirectly related to healthcare.

Some professional schools want to see non-healthcare related volunteer experiences, whereas other schools do not have a preference. Choosing to volunteer in a non-healthcare setting can demonstrate that you are truly invested in serving others. Volunteering in a healthcare setting allows you to gain experiences that can affirm your fit for the profession and allows you to network with other healthcare providers, all while assisting patients’ health and well-being. 

On Campus Opportunities:

Community Volunteer Opportunities:

Patriot Pantry:

Peer Mentoring for MASI program:


Local and National Volunteer Opportunities:

Volunteer Opportunities in Fairfax County:

National Volunteer Opportunities by Zip Code:


Big Brothers/Big Sisters:

Habitat for Humanity:

Red Cross:

Special Olympics:


Peace Corps:


Local Shelters:

Shelter House:


New Hope Housing:


Local Food Pantries/Kitchens:

Fairfax County:


Ecumenical Community Helping Others:

Food for Others: 

Lorton Community Action Center:,


Domestic and Sexual Violence Services: 

Fairfax County:

Northern VA Family Service:

Bethany House of Northern VA:

Doorways for Women and Families:


Therapeutic Riding:

-Register and volunteer through the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps.

-Sign up to join the Contact Tracer Registry to assist with testing efforts near your home. 

-Look for online volunteer opportunities and other ways to help others. Some ideas include being trained as a Crisis Counselor for the Crisis Text Line, being a sighted volunteer for blind or low-vision individuals, or if you speak another language, signing up as a translator for Translators Without Borders.


Research and Summer Opportunities

There are many ways to get involved with research.

  1. Informally, reaching out to a professor you’ve had in class or in your department. Look up the professor on the department website to see what their research area is and what projects they’re working on. It doesn’t hurt to stop by their office hours to chat or reach out via email. Chat with your peers, your academic advisor, and your professors to see if anyone in your network is aware of research opportunities. 
  2. Formally, get involved in research through the OSCAR office or sign up for a research intensive course.
  3. Think beyond Mason. Students get involved in research (especially over the summer) at local medical schools, hospitals, private lab/research centers, and even with the government. 

Check the tab below for ways to get started.

No, research can be done in any discipline and still be meaningful to your application. 

Summer Enrichment/Clinical/Volunteering:


Popular Programs for Mason Students:

Student Organizations - Leadership

Mason student organizations can be explored through Mason360:

A number of student organizations have a pre-health focus. This is not an exhaustive list, so please check Mason360.


American Medical Student Association (AMSA):

American Medical Women’s Association:

Global Medical Brigades:

Multicultural Association of Students (MAPS):

Patriots for Health Assistance: 

Premedical Society:

Pre-Dental Society:

Pre-Pharmacy Honor Society:

Pre-Veterinary Club:

Project Sunshine: 

Volunteers Around the World: Dental Focus:

Joining student organizations is optional, but it is a great way to:

  • Meet likeminded peers, connect with older students who have insight into pre-health opportunities and classes, and build your pre-health network.
  • Participate in social, volunteering, and professional experiences that can enhance your application.
  • Become active in the organization which can potentially lead to a leadership role.

You should join student organizations that interest you. Health profession schools don’t expect you to participate in only pre-health organizations. Sometimes having interests/passions outsides pre-health can make you a more unique applicant. 

That’s up to you and your schedule. Health profession schools don’t expect you to join tens or hundreds of organizations. They would prefer that you join fewer organizations and show a deeper commitment to them (quality over quantity).