Are you pre-med? Wondering how you should be spending your summers? Maybe you've heard of some programs and are wondering if you should apply, how to know which ones to apply to, or need some tips on how to put together your application.
I'm hoping this blog will help answer some of the frequently asked questions I get about pre-med summer programs and the things I wish I knew when thinking about how I should be spending my summers as a pre-med. In this blog, I'll share what a summer program is, why you might consider applying, tips and examples on how to write your application, and more!
In this blog
Let's start with the simple question...what are pre-med summer programs?
As an undergraduate student, you may hear some of your peers going to events like career fairs and applying to internships in the fields of their interest. Summer programs are like the internships of the pre-med world. These programs are typically hosted by medical schools and designed specifically for pre-medical students to gain key experiences needed to be a successful medical school applicant. Additionally, since they are hosted at a medical school these programs are a great opportunity for a more in-depth look at the field of medicine and can deepen your understanding of the role of a physician. For this reason, a summer program can be very advantageous to help you gain some critical experiences such as shadowing or research before you apply to medical schools.
Me shadowing as part of my pre-med summer program
Wait...so does everyone need to do a summer program? Is this another requirement?
As with almost everything about the path to becoming a doctor, there is no path that everyone must take. In fact, I think that carving your own way based on your own passions makes for a more enjoyable pre-med journey and a more genuine medical school application. A summer program may be perfect for one applicant and unnecessary for another, only you (with help from your advisors and mentors) can make that decision for you, but I do want to share some things you can consider to see if a summer program is right for you.
Types of pre-med summer programs
It is important to understand that programs are not created equally. They will differ in length, cost/payment, focus, mission, requirements and more. Many of these programs will be research programs, meaning you will be focusing majority of your time on a research project with opportunities to present a final research project at the end of the summer.
Some programs are focused on recruiting students who are disadvantaged or underrepresented in medicine. These programs may also have a research component and may also include additional professional and academic development aimed at increasing the amount of successful underrepresented students in medicine.
An example of this is the Summer Health Professions Education Program (SHPEP).
This program is hosted at several medical schools across the country and gives students an immersive experience to gain academic enrichment, clinical experiences, and other core competencies for medical school
You can also find programs that have included MCAT prep included throughout the summer and guidance with medical school application process and personal statements.
Programs will also differ in their cost/pay. Some programs will pay you a stipend and some will include housing or meals as well. However some programs actually have a cost, for example the Stanford CARE program has a program cost of $7500.
Where do you find pre-med summer programs?
The AAMC has a database of summer undergraduate research programs. You can find the list here. If there is a medical school you are interested in or maybe live by, I suggest checking out the school's website to see what undergraduate programs they offer.
How to know if you should apply to a summer program and which program is best for you?
Now that we know what summer programs are and types of programs available, how do you know which one is right for you?
I believe as a pre-med you should be checking in with yourself from time to time and asking "am I getting the necessary experiences to be a strong medical school applicant." These experiences are those that strengthen the "core competencies for entering medical students" according to the AAMC such as:
1. Clinical Exposure and Shadowing
When you apply to medical school you want to have the experiences necessary to explain why you want to be a doctor. If you never spend time with doctors, in the hospital, or with patients, it will be hard to convince an admissions committee that this is the career you want to do.
2. Community Service
Medicine is a field of service and community service allows you to show your desire to help others and care for your community
Research and medicine go hand in hand, and while it is not required by all medical schools it is recommended. Research can help you develop critical thinking skills, scientific inquiry, oral and written communication skills as you present your research and write abstracts, and more.
4. Strong Academics
Medical schools look for strong academics and MCAT score to show that you can handle the rigor of medical school classes.
As I said before, there is no one path to medicine and this list is just a general list of the major and important experiences that medical schools look for. In my opinion, they should not be the only experiences you gain!
In my experience, I was in my sophomore year of college when I started thinking about applying to a pre-med summer program. I had spent my first summer in college studying abroad in France (amazing experience!) and volunteering at my local hospital.
By my sophomore year, I had some clinical experiences from hospital volunteering, some community service and leadership involvements but something that really worried me was finding shadowing opportunities. As a first-get student and immigrant, I didn't have connections to doctors who would allow me to shadow. And I didn't have a car to drive to clinics or hospitals around my college campus. I also had a high course load and busy schedule and I was worried that I didn't have time to add clinical experiences to my schedule. These were all reasons why I knew that the summer would be an amazing time to gain these experiences.
I began looking for programs that were at a medical school, that had housing since I didn't have a car, and that provided opportunities for shadowing and mentoring. When I first looked into programs, I actually hoped to find something focused less on research. I thought since I was in a 4-year research program that I already had this experience and should focus on gaining others (clinical and shadowing).
Here's why I was wrong and why, again, you shouldn't look at your experiences as simply "checking boxes". My research program was team based and long-term while my summer research was independent and only 10 weeks to do the research project, this gave me completely different lessons that I gained from each experiences. Most programs have a research component so even if you have research experiences, this should not deter you from applying to a summer research program. One way that I improved my chance of gaining clinical shadowing was to select an physician as my principal investigator mentor. My mentor was a pediatric infectious disease specialist and I was able to shadow him in the hospital throughout my internship!
My Summer Program Experience - UM Scholars
The pre-med summer research program that I did is called the UM Scholars program at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. I completed this program in the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college. As you probably guessed, I have already blogged about this experience and have a video that you can watch above!
Check out these two blogs for a more in-depth look at what my first weeks of my program were like:
What is the UM Scholars Program
The UM Scholars program is a 10 week research program which selects students at the University of Maryland, College Park to connect with top faculty from the University of Maryland Medical School to work on a research project.
What was the application like?
This program is competitive in it's selection; about the top 10%-14% of applicants are accepted. The criteria is that you must attend UMD College Park and be either a sophomore or junior. You must be majoring in the STEM field and have a GPA of 3.2 but 3.5 or higher was preferred. The application included four short essays in which you had to describe your long-term goals, past research experience, future research interests, and a challenge you faced. Next, you had to provide a CV which included a personal statement, honors and awards, past research projects, skills, and leadership/extracurricular. Finally, you needed two recommenders and had two optional recommenders available.
What I gained from my program
During this ten-week internship, I had an enriching research experience at the school of medicine campus. From attending lectures by UMSOM faculty, to shadowing physicians at the University of Medicine Medical Center, to exploring the Baltimore community, I gained an inside look at what it is like to be a medical student.
I was amazed by the supportive and collaborative community that welcomed me. From this program I was able to gain mentors whom I stayed in touch with after the program and who wrote letters of recommendation for my medical school application and NIH application.
I gained experience presenting my research! I was selected to present at the mid-semester research retreat, gave an oral presentation at our final research day, and a whole year after the program I was asked to present at the 2020 Association of Academic Minority Physicians
meeting (and was the only undergraduate presentation there among medical students and physicians!)
Overall, the UM Scholars program completely secured my decision to go into medicine and helped me become a stronger applicant to medical school. I am forever thankful for the experience and do encourage University of Maryland pre-med students to check out the program and apply!
Tips for Applying to Pre-Med Summer Programs
So now that we have discussed what pre-med programs are and why you might decide to apply to one. Now I wanted to give some tips on how to put together a successful application based on some of the most common components of the
Short essays and personal statements
The purpose of the short essays and personal statements is to give the program directors a better sense of who you are and your reasons for applying for the program. Here are some example questions and my answers when I applied to the UM Scholars program.
What are your long-term goals (related to education, training, profession, and other broader goals) and how will this summer research experience help you toward attaining those goals?
My goal is to pursue a career in medicine to dedicate my life to improving health outcomes for minority and underserved communities through public health and the practice of medicine. To accomplish this, I want to obtain my Doctorate of Medicine and then complete a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology. I'm passionate about women's health because I want to help women in underprivileged areas receive access to care and work with high-risk pregnancies to help facilitate the birth of healthy babies. I hope to conduct research on various women’s health issues such as maternal mortality and on health disparities affecting women across this country and the globe.
This research program is an amazing experience that I would feel grateful to be a part of. It will allow me to greatly enrich my research skills. I plan to challenge myself to learn about new topics and apply my skills to that lab to the best of my ability. I also look forward to the opportunity to interact with physicians and faculty through the seminars and the brown bag lunches. This is an opportunity to obtain priceless advice and mentorship. I hope for shadowing opportunities that would allow me to learn about the daily demands of a medical doctor and how healthcare faculty collaborate to provide patient care. As a UM Scholar, I will be able to take my learning outside of my classrooms and college campus and immerse myself in an opportunity to grow as pre-medical student.
When asked a question like this, my tips are to express your long-term goals as specifically as you can. I don't think it is necessary to have a speciality of interest but I think it worked here because I continued the theme of women's health throughout my application and I ended up doing my project on placental malaria.
Share your past research experiences or encounters with research. Discuss the aspects that impact you the most.
My encounters with research have been within the Gemstone Honors Program. In the beginning I was very intimidated because I had no experience with it, however Gemstone has become my favorite part of my undergraduate experience and I have come to love research. My first research experience was a paper I wrote entitled: “Prevention of Preterm Pregnancies in African American Women.” During this project I researched health disparities among African American women in the US. This experience showed me how research is a crucial part of medicine and how I could integrate it into my future career as an Ob/Gyn. As a doctor I can impact the patients I care for, but as a researcher I can help numerous patients across the country and world.
Currently, I am on Team Cascade which stands for Comparing Allergic Signalling Chain Antagonists to inhibit Degranulation Expression. The aim of our project is to target and inhibit small molecules in the mast cell pathway in order to decrease degranulation, and thus reduce the allergic response. I was attracted to this project because I didn’t know much about immunology, but I knew that millions of people were affected by allergies, and this was a chance to discover a new treatment for these individuals. This is the aspect of research that impacts me the most; through research I have the opportunity to positively affect the lives of others which is one of the main goals in my life.
This question is an opportunity to share experiences with prior research. It's ok if you haven't done a full research project, as you see I talked about a research paper I did. I think an important point here is the second part of the question: how did it impact you. I talked about wanting to use research in my career to impact more patients and affect more lives.
Letters of Recommendations
Letters of recommendations writers are able to highlight your skills and characters and provide more insight into who you are to the program admissions. You should ask for your letters at least two weeks ahead of time, I would prefer a month in advance if you can. My tip is to ask for letters from those who know you best. For example, I asked my org TA to write an additional letter for me because she was able to see me hands-on in the lab and I felt that she could speak about me more than my lecture professor could.
Here is the draft on how to ask for a letter of recommendation:
I hope this email finds you well.
I am reaching out today because I’m planning on applying to pre-medical research programs this upcoming summer,. These programs are highly competitive, but if accepted I would gain clinical exposure, shadowing opportunities, and more, while conducting research on the medical campus! Both applications are due in early February.
The programs would like a recommender who could speak to my character, strengths, and abilities, I was wondering if you would be interested in being one of my recommenders?
I value your opinion of me and perspective and I thought you could speak on my qualities I have shown through your class such as the quality of my work, willingness to helping others, and dedication to learning the material and how this might translate to my performance in the research program.
I would be more than happy to meet with you to discuss the letter further at your convenience. Of course, I would also provide my personal statement, CV, transcript and any other material you would like.
If you don’t feel comfortable writing a strong recommendation letter for my pre-medical research programs applications, please don’t feel obligated to. I understand and truly thank you for taking the time to read my request.
CV and Resume Examples
Another part of the application that you may be asked to provide is your CV or resume. When I applied to my program, it was my first time writing a CV so I wasn't sure on how to format it or how to write about my experiences. Finding examples online helped me a lot, so I wanted to share some examples of my CV and resume that I used to apply to these programs.
I think a successful CV highlights who you are as a person. You should include all your relevant experiences such as leadership, community service, and even hobbies. I often include my blog on my CVs and resumes and they are a talking point for my interviews. Here is a look at the CV I used to successfully apply to the UM Scholars program:
Here is an example of my extended resume. A resume is typically one page, however I kept an "extended resume" that summarized all of my experiences and achievements. For my typical uses of my resume as a pre-med included sending it to letter of recommender writers, submitted as part of award nominations, or for programs the resume did not have to be one page.
My advice for a good resume is to include the impact of what you did. I included numbers such as "increased membership from 50 to 100" or highlighted my key contributions such as "started Black big-little program".
*Please note these files are only to serve as an example and a guide*
Me after presenting at the UM Scholars Mid-Summer Research Retreat
I hope that this blog has helped to answer any questions you had about pre-med programs and to inspire you to apply if a program will benefit you and your pre-med journey! My advice is apply apply apply, you never know what could happen. Prepare your applications early, put together a tailored and edited application that highlights who you are as a student, and apply!
If you have further questions about my experience applying to and attending a pre-med summer program, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.