We understand that finding clinical experience during your gap year can be a challenge.
The good news is that there are an increasing number of clinical practices that understand what a great job pre-health students can do providing patient care as medical assistants or in other entry-level clinical positions. A number of them can be found on our job board [here].
We speak with employers all the time about the benefit of hiring pre-health graduates during their gap year even if they don’t have much experience or an MA or other kind of certificate. A few questions come up all the time. Knowing what those questions are can help you position yourself well to address any concerns.
Here are three that come up often…
One of the biggest questions is how long will the candidate be around? It’s a fair question because they know you have plans to go back to school. There is legitimate time and effort up front for the employer to onboard and train (as there is with any new hire) as well as the anticipation that they will have to out looking to hire again in 1-2 years.
The reality today however is that most employers are working through very high turnover issues with their traditional medical assistants. So while an employer ideal would be a long term hire – the knowledge and reassurance that you will commit to be there does help. Most employers are looking for a minimum 12-month commitment and some require 24 months. It does get meaningfully more challenging to find paid clinical experience if your timing is under 12 months.
To give employers comfort – you may want to let them know where you are in the application cycle. Many pre-health graduates are planning to take at least 12 months after graduation before matriculating to school. If you are planning to take a full year after graduation before applying (take the MCAT, get more clinical hours for your application) – make sure employers know that is your timing. The longer time horizon will address one of their key concerns and make you a more attractive candidate.
Another frequent question from employers is about training. If a pre-health graduate isn’t, for example, a certified medical assistant or CNA, employers wonder about the time it will take to get the candidate up to speed.
Good news here – most employers who have hired pre-health graduates into entry-level positions know that those candidates get up to speed very quickly. The number we hear most frequently is 2-4 weeks on 90% – 100% of the clinical responsibilities (insurance and admin duties can take more time). If the candidate is going to be around long enough, it’s a relatively short-term timeframe and the benefits in terms of motivation, willingness to learn and reliability far outweigh the initial time and effort.
That said, it does help to highlight any previous experiences you have had which will signal to the hiring manager that you will have a shorter training curve. If you have worked in a clinical setting before, highlight any hard skills you have acquired (taking a blood pressure, acting as a scribe,) or softer skills involving patient interactions and follow up.
Also, think about skills you may have acquired in other settings that could be transferable. One of the biggest perceived benefits of hiring pre-health graduates is their professionalism and ability to interact with patients in a way that offers a great patient experience. A history of exceling in retail or experience navigating difficult conversations in a customer service role can signal to healthcare employers that they can trust you to do a great job taking care of their patients beyond the hard skills of taking vitals.
Location, location, location
For many healthcare employers, one of the biggest drivers of turnover in entry-level positions is people getting tired of a commute. One of the first things hiring managers will look for when reviewing resumes is where someone lives and see if they feel it’s close enough to their office for it to make sense. They will also be skeptical of people being willing to relocate for one of these positions (even if you would!!) and will almost never offer relocation support for an entry-level position.
This can be challenging for pre-health students who are away at college and have a school address, a home address somewhere else or a plan to move to a location which is neither home nor school for reasons that are independent for the job. So how to manage it?
Putting an address on your resume is a great idea if that address will be viewed as desirable for the employer. If you have a legitimate address that is in the area you want to work and is close to an employer – that will be a plus. But, if you put, let’s say, a home address where your family lives but isn’t where you will be working or close to the employer, the employer will probably not take a lot of time to dig in – they will see the address is not convenient and most likely move on. There is no requirement that you have to put an address on your resume but no address can also give employers pause so its important to demonstrate why the location makes sense. Cover letters or notes when you submit your resume that speak to why the location is going to work for you is one way to handle it. However you manage it, it’s important not to underestimate how much location matters to hiring managers so be thoughtful about how you handle it when applying for a position.