Question of the Week: Do I Need to Volunteer/Shadow in the U.S.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Question: All of my volunteering and shadowing has been abroad. I feel like I’m able to do more and see more abroad than I could in the US. Will this be a problem for medical school?
Answer: If you plan to practice in the United States, it would benefit you to have familiarity with the way that healthcare is organized and delivered in the US. You can gain some of this through GHP classes, reading on your own, following the news, etc., but your own expectations for what it means to be a doctor or work with a healthcare team are often best informed by what you have seen/experienced in shadowing and volunteering.  If you have an interest in global health, try reaching out to physicians in the US who work in that sphere. If you worked with US-trained physicians abroad (e.g., attended a mission where US-based doctors go abroad to work with patients), see if there’s a way to shadow them when they’re back in the US—it could be particularly interesting to observe them in both settings.
It will also benefit you to gain familiarity with the diversity of patients that you’ll see in the US. Many students don’t have significant exposure to certain patient populations: elderly individuals, those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, others who are underserved in the US system. Gain cultural competency in the US as well as abroad—volunteering, medical or not, can be a great way to do this—so that you’ll be better able to serve all patients.
Volunteering and shadowing abroad can add valuable perspective, of course. Do be careful that you’re not overstepping what you should be doing as an individual without medical training. It makes us nervous when students talk about doing more abroad than they can here—you do not want to perform any procedures or otherwise interact with patients in ways that are beyond your training. Before heading off to gain clinical experience abroad, take a look at the guidelines provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges for providing patient care outside of the US.

QOTW in 2017: Pre-Health Journaling
QOTW in 2016: Finding Shadowing Opportunities