Beyond academics, successful applicants are encouraged to be well-rounded. Health professional schools encourage students to pursue the following 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 in. Reach 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.
Other Shadowing Experiences:
Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) Shadowing Database: https://doctorsthatdo.org/
Shadow Physicians at Inova Hospitals: https://www.inova.org/education-and-research/education/education-for-students/physician-observerships.jsp
Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) Shadowing Database: www.dpmnetwork.org
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 experiences. In your application, it’s important to include a detailed and accurate overview of your responsibilities and ways that you interact with patients.
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
Medical Mission Trip Participant
Rehab or Nursing Center Assistant
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
Home Care Health Aide
Clinical Research Assistant
Athletic Trainer Assistant
Physical Therapy Assistant
Veterinary or Pharmacy Tech (if counseling patients is involved)
Not Direct Patient Care:
CPR or ACLS instructor
Researcher with no patient care contact
Student Clinical Experience
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: http://www.achnhealth.org/get-involved/#volunteer
Loudon Free Clinic, Leesburg: http://www.loudounfreeclinic.org/become-a-volunteer.html
Prince William Area Free Clinic Unified Health Center, Woodbridge: https://www.pwafc.org/get-involved
Arlington Free Clinic, Arlington: https://www.arlingtonfreeclinic.org/get-involved/volunteer/
Mission Life Center – Hope Clinic, Manassas: https://missionlifecenter.org/join-the-mission/
Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Arlington Mother of Mercy Free Medical Clinic, Manassas: https://volunteer.ccda.net/recruiter/index.php?class=OppSearchResults&recruiterID=501&orgid=1078&type=all
Culmore Clinic, Falls Church: http://www.culmoreclinic.org/volunteer/4593821555
Capital Caring: https://www.capitalcaring.org/get-involved/become-a-volunteer/
Fairfax Area Agency on Aging: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/familyservices/older-adults/volunteer-solutions
MedStar Washington: https://www.medstarwashington.org/ways-to-give/
Dental Volunteering –
Mission of Mercy: https://www.vdaf.org/volunteer.html
NOVA Dental Clinic: http://www.novadentalclinic.org/volunteers/
National Zoo: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/support/volunteer
Fairfax Animal Shelter: https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/animalshelter/volunteer
Fairfax County Humane Society: https://hsfc.org/support/volunteer/
Volunteer Optometric Services to Humanity: http://vosh.org/get-involved/clinics/
The Metropolitan Washington Ear: https://www.washear.org/volunteer.html
Columbia Lighthouse for the Blind: https://www.clb.org/get-involved/volunteer/
National volunteer opportunities:
International volunteer opportunities:
See the Meaningful Direct Patient Care Experiences tab above for a list of healthcare positions.
Scribe (PA focus):
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 Breanna.McKercher@cuanschutz.edu for a link.
Wilderness Medicine Speaker Series: https://sites.google.com/view/umwildernessmedicine/home
Medical Virtual Shadowing: https://webshadowers.wixsite.com/website
PA Shadowing: https://www.instagram.com/ap.the.pac/
Speech Language Pathology Shadowing: https://www.masterclinician.org/
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: http://masongivesback.onmason.com/opportunities/
Patriot Pantry: https://ssac.gmu.edu/patriot-pantry/
Peer Mentoring for MASI program: https://ds.gmu.edu/masi/
Local and National Volunteer Opportunities:
Volunteer Opportunities in Fairfax County: http://www.volunteerfairfax.org/
National Volunteer Opportunities by Zip Code: https://www.volunteermatch.org/
Big Brothers/Big Sisters: https://www.bigbrobigsis.com/
Habitat for Humanity: https://www.habitat.org/
Special Olympics: https://www.specialolympicsva.org/get-involved/volunteer
Peace Corps: https://www.peacecorps.gov/
Shelter House: https://www.shelterhouse.org/donate-time/
New Hope Housing: https://www.newhopehousing.org/get-involved/
Local Food Pantries/Kitchens:
Fairfax County: https://www.foodpantries.org/ci/va-fairfax
Ecumenical Community Helping Others: https://nativityburke.org/service/echo/
Food for Others: https://www.foodforothers.org
Lorton Community Action Center: https://lortonaction.org/healthy-families/,
Domestic and Sexual Violence Services:
Northern VA Family Service: https://www.nvfs.org/get-involved/
Bethany House of Northern VA: https://www.bhnv.org/volunteer
Doorways for Women and Families: https://www.doorwaysva.org/join-our-cause/volunteer/
-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.
There are many ways to get involved with research.
Check the tab below for ways to get started.
Office of Student Scholarship, Creative Activities, and Research: https://oscar.gmu.edu/
College of Science
College of Health and Human Services:
National Institutes of Health (NIH): https://www.training.nih.gov/programs
National Alliance of Research Associate Programs (NARAP) for clinical research: https://www.thenarap.org/
Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education: https://orise.orau.gov/index.html
Lysomal Center: https://lysosomalcenter.org/index.php/pages/employment
No, research can be done in any discipline and still be meaningful to your application.
Popular Programs for Mason Students:
Mason student organizations can be explored through Mason360: https://mason360.gmu.edu/home_login
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): https://mason360.gmu.edu/amsagmu/home/
American Medical Women’s Association: https://mason360.gmu.edu/amwa/home/
Global Medical Brigades: https://mason360.gmu.edu/gmb/home/
Multicultural Association of Students (MAPS): https://mason360.gmu.edu/maps/home/
Patriots for Health Assistance: https://mason360.gmu.edu/pha/home/
Premedical Society: https://mason360.gmu.edu/PreMed/
Pre-Dental Society: https://mason360.gmu.edu/pds/home/
Pre-Pharmacy Honor Society: https://mason360.gmu.edu/pphs/home/
Pre-Veterinary Club: https://mason360.gmu.edu/prevet/home/
Project Sunshine: https://mason360.gmu.edu/sun/home/
Joining student organizations is optional, but it is a great way to:
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).