Thinking about a career in medicine? I highly recommend trying out some medical experiences in high school before committing to a pre-med track. Many of my high school friends who hoped to go into medicine ended up changing their major during college when the pre-med courses got too difficult.
Doing a medical internship, summer program, or community service project in high school can help you decide if medicine is the right track for you before you waste time and money trying pre-med in college. This guide will explain what experiences are open to you as a high school student, what those experiences involve, and how you will benefit from them.
What Medical Experiences Are Available to High School Students?
There are lots of ways to get a taste of it's like to work in medicine. In my opinion, the best time to do this is over the summer. You have the most free time during the summer, and there are more experiences available.
There are many summer medical programs and summer medical internships for high school students across the country. These opportunities range from research experiences to in-hospital experiences. Some of these programs and internships charge you a fee to attend, some are paid for, and some even pay you to attend.
I’ve compiled a list of over 50 summer medical programs for high school students. Several of these programs and internships are just for students from a specific state or area. Check specific programs for application requirements and fees. I've provided links to each program below.
If you’d like to get experience during the school year (on weekends and after school), you should consider shadowing a doctor or volunteering at a hospital. I’ll discuss the details of volunteering and job shadowing later in the article.
List of Summer Medical Programs for High School Students
I've divided up the summer medical programs into three categories: Medical Programs, Medical Research Programs, and general Science Research Programs.
In the medical programs category, I list programs that offer high school students the chance to get hands-on experience in medicine (non-research related) such as learning simple medical procedures, watching surgeries, shadowing doctors, working in hospitals, interacting with patients, and more. There are very few programs that offer this type of experience to high school students, and I highly recommend them since they'll give you the most realistic look at what life's like as a pre-med student, medical student, and medical professional.
|High School Senior Summer Internship Program||Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center||Cincinnati, OH|
|Medical Immersion Summer Academy||Mentoring in Medicine and Science||Oakland, CA|
|Medicine & Health Care Program||National Student Leadership Council||Various universities throughout the US|
|Stanford Medical Youth Science Program||Stanford University||Stanford, CA|
|Summer Medical Academy||Rady Children's Hospital and UC San Diego||San Diego, CA|
|UPenn Medicine Summer Program for High School Students||University of Pennsylvania||Philadelphia, PA|
Medical Research Programs
If you're unable to do one of the above medical programs, the next best thing is a medical research program. In these programs, you'll be working in a lab and helping with medical research that's in progress (i.e. looking at slides under a microscope, recording changes) or assisting with on-going clinical research (i.e. interviewing participants in an on-going trial of new medication, logging participant information in the computer). Many of these programs pair you with a mentor who works at your location. Also, several of these programs require you to give a presentation at the end of the program.
These medical research programs are extremely valuable because, as a pre-med student, you'll likely end up doing lab work either for class or as an extracurricular for your medical school application. If you do one of these programs in high school, you'll be a step ahead of your pre-med classmates.
|Summer Science Internship Program||Arthritis Foundation||California|
|Summer Internship Program||Banner Sun Health Research Institute||Sun City, AZ|
|Summer Scholars Biology Research Immersion Program||Buck Institute for Research on Aging||Novato, CA|
|Disease Detective Camp||Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC||Atlanta, Georgia|
|Summer Child Health Research Internship||Children's Hospital Colorado||Aurora, CO|
|Summer Research Program||Children's Hospital Oakland Research Institute||Oakland, CA|
|Biomedical Research Internship for Minority Students||Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center||Cincinnati, OH|
|City of Hope Cancer Center||Eugene and Ruth Roberts Summer Student Academy||Duarte, CA|
|Summer Experience for Students||Coriell Institute for Medical Research||Camden, NJ|
|Initiative to Eliminate Cancer Disparities, The Continuing Umbrella of Research Experiences CURE||Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center||Boston, MA|
|Summer Research Program||Indiana University Cancer Center||Indianapolis, IN|
|High School Summer Internship Program||Magee Women's Research Institute||Pittsburgh, PA|
|Summer Research Internship||Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience||Jupiter, FL|
|Summer Internships for High School and College Students||McLaughlin Research Institute||Great Falls, MT|
|High School Summer Program||MD Anderson Cancer Center||Houston, TX|
|Diversity Summer Enrichment Programs||Medical College of Wisconsin||Milwaukee, WI|
|Werner H. Kirsten Student Intern Program||National Cancer Institute||Frederick, MD|
|NEI Summer Intern Program||National Eye Institute||Bethesda, MD & Rockville, MD|
|Summer Internship Program in Biomedical Research||NIH||Bethesda, MD|
|Summer Student Program||National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Diseases||Bethesda, MD|
|National Institute on Drug Abuse: Summer Research with NIDA||NIDA||Various universities throughout the US|
|NIDDK Short-term Education Program for Underrepresented Persons STEP-UP - High School Program||National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases||Bethesda, MD|
|Summer Internship Program||National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Research||Triangle Park, NC|
|Summer Program in the Neurological Sciences||National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke||Bethesda, MD|
|Summer Cancer Research Experience Program for High School Students||Roswell Park Cancer Institute||Buffalo, NY|
|Stanford Institutes of Medicine Summer Research Program||Stanford University School of Medicine||Stanford, CA|
|Summer Student Program||The Jackson Laboratory||Bar Harbor, ME|
|Helios Scholars Program||Translational Genomics Research Institute||Phoenix, AZ|
|High School Student Research Apprentice Program||University of Connecticut Health Center||Farmington, CT|
|Summer Cancer Research Internship for High School and Undergraduate Students||University of Hawaii, Cancer Center||Honolulu, HI|
|Summer Research Scholars Program||University of Minnesota Medical School, Lillehei Heart Institute||Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN|
|Travis B. Lewis High School Scholarship Award Program||University of Nebraska Medical Center, Department of Pharmacology & Experimental Neuroscience||Omaha, NE|
|Summer Mentoring and Research Training program in Methods in the Neuroscience of Drug-addiction SMART MIND||University of Texas at El Paso||El Paso, TX|
|Biomedical Research Training for High School Students||University of Texas Medical Branch||Galveston, TX|
|Summer Fellowship Program in Biomedical Research||Wistar Institute||Philadelphia, PA|
Science Research Programs
If you can't do one of the medical research or medical programs, you should consider trying to do a science summer program/internship. These programs are not medicine-specific and cover a wide range of science topics (from plant life to space). However, these programs are still very valuable because, as a pre-med student, you'll be learning a ton of science. As a part of your pre-med track, you'll be required to take Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Organic Chemistry, and more. Doing one of these science programs will give you a preview of the coursework ahead of you.
Also, many of these programs are lab work, and, although they're not focused on medical research, they will still give you good general insights into how to do lab work. As I said before, as a pre-med student, you'll likely end up doing lab work either for class or as an extracurricular for your medical school application. If you do one of these programs, you'll be well-prepared to do that research.
|Plant Genome Internship||Cornell University Boyce Thompson Institute||Ithaca, NY|
|Aspiring Scientists Summer Internship Program||George Mason University||Fairfax, Virginia|
|Army Educational Outreach Programs||Department of Defense||Washington, DC|
|Internship Program||J. Craig Venter Institute||Rockville, MD|
|Maine Research Internships for Teachers and High School Students MERITS||Maine Space Grant Consortium||Augusta, ME|
|Research Science Institute||Massachusetts Institute of Technology - MIT||Cambridge, MA|
|Monell Science Apprenticeship Program||Monell Chemical Senses Center||Philadelphia, PA|
|Summer Research Program||Monmouth University||West Long Branch, NJ|
|Summer Youth Internship Program||Museum of Science||Boston, MA|
|National Space Club Scholars Program||National Aeronautics and Space Administration||Greenbelt, MD & Wallops Island, VA|
|OARDC Research Internships in Wooster ORIP||Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center||Wooster, OH|
|Apprenticeships in Science and Engineering (ASE) program||Saturday Academy||Oregon & Southwest Washington|
|High School Student Research Education Program||Scripps Research Institute||La Jolla, CA|
|Howard Hughes Summer Science Program||Spelman College||Atlanta, GA|
|Internships for High School||State University of New York College at Oneonta||Cooperstown, NY|
|Educational Outreach Program||The Forsyth Institute||Boston, MA|
|Geosciences Bridge Program||University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Living Marine Resources Cooperative Science Center||Princess Anne, MD|
|Bioscience Summer Research Program for High School Students||University of Utah, Department of Biology||Salt Lake City, UT|
|Summer Research Apprentice Program||University of Wyoming||Laramie, WY|
What Are the Pros and Cons of These Programs?
- These programs and internships provide a real look at what life's like as a researcher, scientist, or medical student. You'll have a great sense of whether or not you'd like to pursue a career in the medical field after you finish your program.
- If you do a college campus program, you'll get a preview of college life. You can experience living away from home, and you can decide if you like the college. I did a summer program at UCLA during high school, and it made me realize that UCLA was not the school for me.
- As I said before, these opportunities give you the chance to evaluate if pre-med is the track you want to go down before you waste time and money in college. If you love your program, you'll be even more motivated to work hard to become a medical professional.
- You'll meet like-minded students who’re interested in medicine/science.
- You'll have a great program or internship on your college application. By actually participating in a medical/science program, you'll show colleges that you're committed to pursuing a career in the medical field.
- If you attend a college campus program, and you’re interested in going to college at the school that hosted the program, you’ll have shown real interest in that college (which admissions officers always like to see).
- These programs can be expensive (depending on the program you choose, some can cost almost $10,000). However, some programs pay you! Make sure you check out the individual program websites to find out the cost.
- Also, they can be highly competitive (some admit very few students or have special qualifications such as having a 3.5 GPA or higher).
- Some may not provide you with the best insight into medicine, especially those that are less hands-on or only offer research exposure (which is not what you’ll necessarily be interested in).
Other Options: Hospital Volunteer or Shadowing a Doctor
Volunteering and job shadowing are both great ways to participate in medical experiences at your local hospital. You can do them during the school year or the summer. Also, both opportunities are free!
What's the difference between volunteering & job shadowing a doctor? As a hospital volunteer, you'll have to apply (and likely interview) to be a volunteer (along with getting a TB test and filling out paperwork). You'll attend a hospital volunteer orientation and be assigned a specific "job" at the hospital (such as assisting the nurses or assisting hospital visitors in navigating the hospital). As a volunteer, you'll be required to commit to volunteering for a certain number of shifts per week. You also may have to commit to volunteering for 6 months or more.
Job shadowing is a shorter experience and much less formal. You can shadow a doctor for as little time as a few hours or a day or two. While shadowing, you follow a doctor around while they go about their normal activities. They may ask you to help them with basic tasks (grabbing a chart or taking notes), but probably not. You'll be there to see what a doctor does in their daily routine to determine if it interests you.
To sign up to be a hospital volunteer, apply through the hospital's website. If you're having trouble locating the hospital's website or contact information, check with your school academic advisor. They may have a connection to the local hospital or might know another student who has volunteered or job shadowed there and who could help you get involved.
To find a job shadowing opportunity, reach out to any friends or family who work in the medical field. See if they know any doctors whom you could shadow. Also, ask your school's academic advisor if they know other students who shadowed a doctor and could give you more information. If your school can’t help you, get in touch with the hospital directly to see if they can help you set up a job shadowing opportunity. If you need more advice on job shadowing, read our other guide.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Shadowing a Doctor or Being a Hospital Volunteer?
- As opposed to summer programs, these experiences are always free. As I said above, some medical programs and internships can cost up to $10,000 (so much!). Job shadowing and being a hospital volunteer are free experiences that will only cost you your time. These are great options if you can't afford the cost of a summer program.
- Job shadowing and being a hospital volunteer can provide a real look into life as a doctor or nurse. By following them around or working in a hospital, you'll get a sense of the work environment and what life is like on a day-to-day basis for a medical professional.
- As I said before, these opportunities give you the chance to evaluate if pre-med is the track you want to go down before you spend time and money in college. If you don't like your experience job shadowing or as a volunteer, you might realize pre-med isn't the right path for you. However, if you love your experience, you'll feel more motivated to work towards your goal of becoming a medical professional.
- Job shadowing is a great experience if you don't have a lot of time to commit. You can choose to job shadow for a few hours, a full day, or for several days. It's very flexible.
- If you want to be pre-med, volunteering at a hospital is a great extracurricular activity for your college application. While volunteering elsewhere (at a homeless shelter, animal shelter, etc.) can be great for a college application, it's good to keep your extracurriculars focused on your future goals. Volunteering at a hospital will show colleges that you're serious about a career in medicine.
- Volunteer experience may not provide you with quite the medical experience you're looking for. Volunteering may not be very hands-on, and your duties may be repetitive and not directly related to medicine, such as answering phones, filing papers, and helping visitors find where they're going.
- If you only job shadow for a day, it's not a great experience for your college application. It's not an extracurricular activity if you only do it once because that doesn't show enough commitment. However, I recommend doing job shadowing just to get insight into the medical field.
How to Choose the Right Medical Experience for You
I think each of the medical experiences listed in this article has value. To decide which is right for you, you should ask yourself three questions:
1. What Is Your Main Medical Interest?
Are you more interested in research or patient care? If research, look into one of the summer research programs. If patient care, look into one of the hospital-based programs, job shadowing or being a hospital volunteer.
2. How Much Money Are You Willing to Spend?
Do you have money to spend, do you have no money to spend, or do you need to have a job that pays? If you have money to spend, you can consider all of the options. If you have no money to spend, look into an all-expenses paid program (or one with financial aid). Also, consider volunteering or job shadowing since both are free experiences. If you need a job that pays, look into the programs with stipends for participants.
3. How Much Time Do You Want to Invest in Your Experience?
Do you want to spend a day, a few hours per week, or a few weeks full-time on this experience? If you want a quick experience, consider job shadowing a doctor for a day or two. If you’d like an on-going experience to use as an extracurricular, consider volunteering since you could do that a few hours per week throughout the school year. If you’d like an intensive experience, consider doing one of the summer programs or internships.
Also, always make sure to research a program or experience before you commit to it. Doing so will help avoid a bad experience (such as a program that's not very hands-on or volunteer work that's mostly grunt work). Whatever you're interested in doing, try to find another student who did it previously and ask them about their experience. For the programs, get in touch with the program coordinator to see if they can put you in contact with a program alum you can speak with.
How Will Colleges View These Experiences?
Colleges mainly look for extracurriculars that show your commitment, passion, and ability to handle responsibility and leadership. As I mentioned briefly above, job shadowing isn't a great experience for your college application because it's not enough of a commitment if you only do it for a few days. On the other hand, volunteering at a hospital is a great extracurricular activity for your college application because it shows a commitment to medicine.
The summer programs and internships are also great experiences for your college application because they show that same interest in and commitment to medicine. Also, many of these programs and internships are competitive, and colleges know that. If you're accepted into one of those programs or internships, colleges will view it like you won a prestigious award.
Also, you should learn about how to write about extracurriculars on college applications. Check out four amazing examples of extracurriculars for college applications.
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