Questions About Internships & Summer Experiences

When should I start looking for internships?

The Center for Career Development provides a step-by-step guide for your internship search, and it begins with spending some time just thinking: about yourself, your interests, and your goals.

Specifically, as a prehealth student, consider what you want to gain from your summer:

  • Do you seek hands-on patient care experience to be sure medicine is for you (or to build evidence for med schools that it’s for you)? It can be challenging to make time and find patient care exposure during the academic year.
  • Do you want to do research, to see if you want to pursue it long-term, or might prefer a research career to a medical one?
  • Do you want to address a social issue you’re passionate about?
  • Do you want to be near home, or maybe see a completely new place?
  • Do you want to experiment with another field as you decide between health and another interest?

Remember that you can always build in some health-related activity in your spare time outside of your primary summer endeavor (e.g., if you’re working in consulting 50-60 hours per week, volunteer at a hospital or clinic for a couple of shifts in the evenings or weekends). Once you’ve thought more about what you might want, start doing some online searching, cast your net widely, use the HPA summer opportunities webpages, and keep good notes on deadlines and requirements so that you’ll be able to create an action plan on what applications to do when.

A lot of deadlines will be in November through February, but looking through the opportunities takes some time.

Where should I look for internship opportunities?

Any internships we hear about are posted in our Vitals newsletter. Be sure to subscribe if you aren't receiving it every Friday! Our Summer Opportunities web page houses additional resources and information. 

Of course, not every internship you do as a prehealth student needs to be specifically health-related. You can also gain valuable service, leadership, teaching, and research experience—or pursue other talents—that will be relevant for a future in the health professions. Or you might want to explore another interest outside of healthcare this summer. 

Handshake, overseen by the Center for Career Development, includes internship postings submitted to Princeton by employers. Use Career Development's comprehensive guides and internship web pages to broaden your search.

I need to be home for the summer but I still want to do something relevant to my interest in medicine. Do you have suggestions?

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  1. Think of your own service-based internship that addresses a need in your home community and apply for funding through the Bogle Fellowship (first-years), Derian ProCES internship (sophomores and juniors), or another funding opportunity available through the Student Activities Funding Engine.
  2. If you can afford to work without pay and are interested in research, reach out to faculty at local colleges/universities whose work is of interest and see if they would accept a volunteer researcher. Write a professional email describing your interest in the work and attach a copy of your resume. Local medical schools and colleges and may also have funded summer undergraduate research programs.
  3. If you need to work, think about jobs that help you develop some of the core competencies sought in entering medical students. Anything where you work as part of a team and learn to communicate with others, especially those from backgrounds different from your own, can be very valuable.
  4. Reach out via the Princeton network to seek shadowing or even internship opportunities. Our HPA Shadowing Tips handout provides guidance on how to reach out.
  5. Google premed/prehealth advising offices at colleges and universities near home and see if they have ideas for local opportunities.
  6. If you’re working 40 hours per week, there’s plenty of time to work in some shadowing or volunteering around your job, but be sure to also leave yourself some downtime to recharge and come back refreshed next year!
I applied to PICS and IIP but wasn’t accepted. I’m worried that there aren’t any summer options left. What should I do?

We’d first like to refer you to an excellent article written by prehealth alum Nanako Shirai for the Princeton OUR blog: What To Do When You’re Rejected From Both PICS and IIP. Her advice is excellent: expand your scope (she provides many helpful links) and don’t get overwhelmed. We can help you brainstorm as well if you come by during drop-in hours or make an appointment. For some specific examples of prehealth students’ summer experiences beyond PICS and IIP, check out the HPA Summer Spotlights.

I’m a first-year pre-med student and I’m wondering what I should do this summer. I’ve already done hospital volunteering in high school. Should I work in a lab?

While your high school volunteer experience may have been helpful in your decision to pursue the prehealth path, it will be important to continue to develop clinical exposure (especially time in direct service to patients) to enhance your own understanding of what it means to practice medicine and to convey to medicals school that you have deepened your engagement throughout your college years. You may choose to gain more clinical exposure in the summer, but you may prefer to do this during the academic year, and do something entirely different during the summer.

Doing benchwork in a lab prior to medical school is certainly not essential (unless you are pursuing an MD/PhD). If you are passionate about lab work and want to pursue it, that’s fine. But don’t spend your summer in lab just because you think you “should.”

There’s no one way to answer the question of what you “should” do this summer. Instead, think about what you want to gain from your summer:

  • Are there skills that you'd like to develop?
  • Are there competencies (e.g., teamwork, cultural competency, service orientation), that you want to develop or demonstrate?
  • Is there a social issue that you're passionate about that you could address?
  • Is there a work setting you'd like to explore?

When you apply to medical school, admissions committees will look at what you've done and they'll be interested in why you've done them. You don't want your only rationale for doing things to be "because I thought admissions committees would want me to do it" (it's true that admissions committees want you to gain experience with patients, but hopefully you also want to spend time with them now, since you hope to spend the rest of your life with them as a physician!). Even if you don't land the "perfect" internship, whatever you end up doing, reflect on what you're learning, how you're contributing, and where you might go and what you might do as the next step. Developing your narrative over time is an important part of your prehealth preparation.

I am a pre-med freshman. I know it is suggested that we do medically-related summer programs, but is it absolutely necessary the summer after freshman year? I love kids, and would love to work at a camp this summer.

Go ahead and work at the summer camp. It’s nice to love kids! Medical schools think so, too. Maybe you could hang out with the camp nurse a bit? You could also work at a summer camp specifically for kids with medical needs to gain experience with this population. Some prehealth students do their medically-related activities during the academic year instead of the summers. Do what works best for you.

I’m a first-year and I’m thinking about engineering and medicine as my top career options right now. Is it better to take an internship in engineering, or to do some shadowing and hospital volunteer work over the summer?

Why not do both? The Princeton summer is a luxurious twelve weeks, which means that you have more time than many of your peers at other schools to engage in numerous activities. Many internships last eight to ten weeks, which would still leave time to do some full-time shadowing. It may be worthwhile to let your internship supervisor know that you’re considering a medical career and see if they have any contacts who you could shadow or know of nearby places where you could volunteer. Once you know your internship site, you can also start googling for nearby hospitals and see if you can do a weekend volunteer shift, an evening EMT training class, spend time at an animal shelter, or take part in a similar endeavor that doesn’t take up too much time. Remember, internships are usually about forty hours a week, so that leaves 128 hours of time – even after adding in commuting, meals, sleep, and socializing, you should be able to spare a few hours to gain some medically relevant experience.

I'm a junior just starting to think about medicine after planning on science grad school. What's the most important thing to do during the summer?

This will depend on what you've already done, if anything, in healthcare, but most likely three things:

  1. Clinical experience that helps ground your interest in real-life exposure to patients and healthcare settings. This could be part-time through volunteering and shadowing, full-time as a clinical research intern (specifically in a position with a lot of interaction with patients), seeking training as an EMT or CNA to gain tangible skills, or some other mechanism. 
  2. Reflection: how you'll tell the story of your growing interest in medicine and your motivation for it. Start to connect the dots between past experiences and your future in medicine.
  3. Getting up to speed on the logistics of medical school application: what classes do you need, what does the application timeline look like, what timeline makes the most sense for you. You can glean some of this from our HPA website, but it's sometimes more efficient to talk to other premeds who are further along in the process. If you're a science major, you probably know some from classes, but we can also help connect you with some who have similar interests (including our HPA Peer Advisers).