Volunteering and Experience

Students work in a lab

Volunteering is a great way to explore a health career and develop and demonstrate your ability to work with patients and healthcare professionals.

Volunteering hours are often required for many health careers and these experiences are highly valued by the admissions committees for all health professional schools.

Experience: Required?

Some health professional programs require individualized hands-on experience as part of the preparation for admission and all programs strongly recommend it.

Volunteering vs. Internships vs. Shadowing

There are a variety of terms used to describe experiences students can use to prepare for a health profession program. The following tabs provide a description for each type. All three of these can be used to gain experience to enter a professional school.

Volunteering can provide leadership and teaching opportunities. Internships, while rare, can help you create a network of contacts to ask about their career trajectories. And shadowing experiences can give you a glimpse inside the day in the life of a particular career.


Generally speaking, volunteering involves unpaid activities in which an individual provides a service. This can be used for skill development, promoting goodwill, and improving human quality of life. For pre-health students this is a good way to gain experience in a health setting, and provide a service to patients.


An internship is often designed for students to gain practical experience and apply what they have learned in school at a job setting. Generally pre-health students do not obtain internships that are directly related to patient care, however an internship can be a way to work with a specific patient population (outside of the a patient care setting), or with an organization that positively impacts the public through education or policy, etc.


Shadowing experience involves observing a professional while they work. These types of experiences can help students learn about a particular profession, and are often very passive. Students participating in shadowing are encouraged to spend time reflecting on what you are seeing and learning. Shadowing is unpaid. Pre-health students are sometimes required, and often encouraged to use shadowing opportunities to learn more about the profession so they are confident in the decision to pursue the career path.