Graduate & Professional School in Health Professions

Almost all careers in the health professions require additional education or certification beyond your bachelor of arts degree. Most of these programs will require academic preparation in the sciences, a standardized test (e.g., the MCAT for medical school or the DAT for dental school: see the Graduate & Professional School section for more information), and significant preparatory experience in three broad areas. Think of these experiential areas as the three “buckets:” they don’t all need to be overflowing, but none of them should be empty.

  • Clinical (what does patient care really look like?): traditionally, shadowing physicians or other clinicians. Even better than shadowing, you can also work in a patient care setting (nursing home, clinic, etc.). Some students get certified as CNA (certified nursing assistant) or EMT (emergency medical technician), which can be done locally or nearby (or in a larger city, after graduation/during a summer break). You really can’t overdo it in this bucket. Maximize every opportunity to witness clinicians at work or, better yet, assist in the process.
    • At Grinnell: there are limited opportunities to shadow at Grinnell Regional Medical Center. Local physicians usually don’t allow shadowing because of privacy concerns. The student group MAPS (Minority Association of Premedical Students) works on connecting Grinnell students to shadowing at Carver College of Medicine (University of Iowa).
    • It’s a good idea to get depth and breadth: see several different specialties in healthcare, but spend a fair amount of time with one clinician. A letter of recommendation from a physician is often valuable in a medical school application. (A few medical schools have a minimum number of shadowing hours; 40 hours is typical. But lots more is good!)
    • Some degree programs may have minimal clinical hours (i.e., actual patient care, not just shadowing). Physician assistant programs typically require about 1,000 hours of patient care, which usually amounts to a year or so of full-time clinical work.
  • Service (demonstrate commitment to a helping profession): any type of volunteering, community involvement, civic engagement. This does not need to be health- or even human-related, although volunteering in a health setting can help fulfill the clinical requirement at the same time. Commitment to one thing over a long time, particularly in a leadership role, is better than just gathering lots of hours in lots of areas.
  • Research (understand the process and gain critical thinking skills): science students at Grinnell get lots of research experience because it’s built into the curriculum. Research is most important for medical school and public health, but all types of healthcare programs like to see at least a little experience in this area. Whether a student maximizes their research depends on what kind of clinician they want to be:
    • Main focus on patient care, commitment to serving the community? Should work more on the clinical & service buckets.
    • Interest in research medicine or a research-based field like global health or epidemiology, becoming a physician-scientist, possibly even the MD/PhD track? More research experience is good.