The Need for Clinical Experience
It is essential for you to gain some real-world perspective on whatever form of medicine interests you (human, vet, dental). There are many ways in which you can learn about the field: Working or volunteering in a hospital or community health clinic, doing an internship (through our International Internship Program or through the Office of Career Services), or reading and becoming informed about latest trends and challenges in the field (see the Suggested Reading section of this site and our ever-growing library at HPA). For volunteer work, the Student Volunteers Council (SVC) is a great place to start; they offer a program at the University Medical Center as well as other opportunities for service, some of which are health-related. If you speak Spanish, there is an active translation program for patients and doctors at the Medical Center, run through the SVC. At HPA, we have assembled a list of shadowing opportunities with local physicians and dentists. And there are several health-related opportunities on campus, such as becoming a peer health educator through University Health Services. Last but not least, you might take First Aid courses and CPR, and join a local rescue squad—there are two in the Princeton area. Practical experience with a veterinarian or dentist is essential for individuals planning to enter those professions.
If you don't have time for health-related volunteer work during the school year, plan on it in the summer. How, when, and through whose auspices is less important. What does matter is that you gain some sense that medicine will be satisfying to you and that you will have something to give your patients and the profession. This should be your first priority if you are considering health professional school, done before or during your time in the pre-health courses. Also, please note: you will want to develop and sustain your exposure to clinical practice, not rely on what you “did back in high school.”
Interested in Research?
Many pre-health students enter college assuming that scientific research is a requirement for admission to medical, dental, or veterinary school. This is simply not the case. It may be that historically, pre-meds did research in college, but in recent years the emphasis on research has been overshadowed somewhat by a greater need for undergraduates to explore patient care in a clinical setting. We advise students to look for research experiences if, first of all, they have a genuine curiosity about research and would like to know if they would like to continue to do research as a doctor. Secondly, they may be interested in the MD/PhD, which requires in-depth, long-term research experience. Lastly, they may simply love science and wish to augment their senior thesis in a science concentration at Princeton with further benchwork or field study. Any of these reasons are fine. The only reason for seeking research that we question is, “because I have to.”
For listings of summer jobs and full-time positions available to Princeton students and alumni, we direct you to the comprehensive database of positions that is maintained by the office of Career Services. Go to TigerTracks and see what is currently open. Any and all health-related job openings that we hear of are posted there.
Questions of the Week
Many questions about gaining experience are addressed through our FAQ feature, Questions of the Week. You may find answers to your questions here.