Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by Laura Turner
There are many reasons that doctors tend to come from wealthier families. The requirements of piecing together a medical school application is surely one of them. During my do-it-yourself, community-college post-baccalaureate nearly every applicant checkbox required me to spend my time doing something without being paid.
On top of excelling in my classes, I needed to shadow, volunteer, research and build in meaningful clinical experiences. Even as a writer working from home, this left very little time to make money. Given my background, which already included a history of volunteerism, I concentrated on research and clinical experience.
Unless you know someone, and know them well, you’re not going to land a research job without research experience. I had trouble finding labs that would allow me to volunteer as a university-unaffiliated student. You can, however, find paid clinical experiences. It is even possible to find paid clinical jobs that only require weekend and evening hours.
As a would-be doc interested in psychiatry, working part-time as a Behavioral Health Technician (BHT) at a live-in youth center during my post-baccalaureate was incredibly rewarding. It also came with a paycheck. Though this was the right choice for me, there are many other options for pre-med students who need to work while also beefing up an application. It is finding and securing these paid clinical jobs that is the challenge.
The Paid Clinical Job Hunt
I got my foot in the door as a BHT by getting the job first. Then I attended in-house, on-the-job training. Depending on the state you live in, many entry-level clinical positions will provide all the training you need.
This is by far the best way to find paid clinical experience. Getting a certificate on your own is a good idea if you can’t find work otherwise. However, the time and energy you put into a certificate program does not guarantee a job upon completion.
If you haven’t looked for a job before, I should warn you that finding a job is a job in and of itself. One hundred applications is not an unreasonable goal. More would be even better. Remember, you’re not looking for a career. You’re looking for paid clinical experience. Once you have applied to every job that allows for the part-time hours and clinical exposure you’re looking for, start taking an hour each morning to apply for anything else that comes up.
Since all the jobs will be similar, you shouldn’t have to tailor your resume each time. I recommend the half-generic cover letter. Write a new introductory paragraph for each application, demonstrating you’ve Googled the company, and then paste a more generic second paragraph.
Just because you are applying to many jobs doesn’t mean that each application isn’t important. Consider every application that hasn’t been professionally and personally executed an opportunity lost. Better to apply tomorrow than send a mediocre application today.
Start Looking Early and Plan for Full-Time Training
You want to start your job hunt early. Even a part-time job often requires a week or two of scheduled, full-time, face-to-face training. Unless you’re taking classes at night, school and starting a new clinical job don’t mix very well. Plan accordingly.
If you’ve spent all spring looking for a job to start in the summer and come up empty handed, then it might be time to consider a certificate program.
Choosing a Certificate Program
While it is useful to know the kinds of certificate programs that exist, states have different licensing requirements and clinical needs. I can’t tell you the options available to you, but I can tell you how to find them and what questions you should be asking.
Where to Find Certificate Programs
Unless you happen to be at a university that has a certificate program that fits into your current course of study, community college is going to be your best bet. Visit the websites of community colleges in your state of residency. Bonus points for programs where you can attend night classes while in school, live with family, or keep your current accommodation for the summer. The second option is private certification programs, though these tend to be more expensive.
How long will it take? Does it include overlap with your current course of study?
The first thing you want to think about is time commitment, but you want to think about it strategically. Some programs, like becoming an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT-B) or Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), can be accomplished over the summer but don’t overlap with your coursework. Others might take considerably longer but align well. Both could be good options, though you need to make sure credits will transfer if you will be studying at two different institutions.
Unlike our job hunt, where costs were low and we were open-minded about the work we’d be doing, you should consider your long-term career goals when choosing a certificate program. If you’re planning on being a radiologist, taking the time to qualify as a radiology assistant and then working part-time while you finish school might make sense. If you’re interested in cardiology, you should consider an EKG technician program.
How much will it cost?
A community college certificate program is probably a good investment. You should still do the math. The time you spend on a certificate is time that you could spend gaining clinical experience as a volunteer. Depending on how long your pre-med classwork will take, you may be better off spending that same summer getting the experience you need for your application. Unless it fits into your current course of study, a certificate is more appropriate for students who will not be applying to medical school for at least two years.
What are your job prospects after training?
This is the most important aspect of your certificate decision making process. Will you be able to find a part-time job once you’ve completed your training? Ask the program director how many of their students are working and whether part-time work is available. Ask about job placement support. Look online for jobs that require this training. If you aren’t confident you can find part-time work, don’t spend your time and money completing a certificate program.
Good luck in your search for paid clinical experience!
Erin is a non-traditional medical student training to become a physician scientist. Before starting medical school she worked as a writer, bootstrapped an educational non-profit in Cameroon, and made hundreds of underwater videos for tourists in Thailand. She lives with her husband and two children in Baltimore, Maryland.