Emphasis on clinical exposure a recent phenomenon?

I posted this on SDN and thought you folks here might have some insight too.
A month or two ago, I posted a question here asking about what I had to do in order to get into a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program; specifically, whether I would have to have shadowing/volunteering experience, or whether I could get into a post-bacc without that and just do it while I’m in the post-bacc in order to enhance my med school application. The discussion kind of got hijacked into a debate over what med schools expect and whether pre-meds who volunteer really ‘want to help people’ or are just padding their applications. What struck me, however, were that some of the responses to my initial question basically said "you shouldn’t even be here asking this question (what does it take to get into a post-bacc) until you’ve shadowed a physician and/or done some volunteering, because until you’ve done so, you don’t know what you’re talking about and you’re not qualified to claim you want to be a doctor."
Now, I have physicians in the family and have talked to a few other doctors. I think I know, in general, what doctors do, at least enough so that any shadowing/volunteering I did would probably merely confirm my desire to become a doctor, rather than being the actual basis on which I made the decision. Still, I know that med schools require that kind of experience and I have no problem with doing it in order to get into med school.
But I’m still stuck on the question of where I should start (since I don’t have the pre-reqs) and I’m getting mixed messages. The people on these online forums seem to place a huge emphasis on clinical exposure experiences like volunteering and shadowing, and the application materials for a few post-baccs (Bryn Mawr and UPenn) indirectly state that they expect you to have such experience before applying to their programs. On the other hand, I have talked in real life with two private practice physicians about my desire to go into medicine, and they have both said “volunteering and shadowing would be a waste of time for you at this stage; you should just start taking the classes.” One of these doctors was my uncle, who did the same thing I’m going to do (go back to school for pre-med in his late 20s) but when he did it, there were no formal post-bacc programs so he didn’t have to worry about getting into one. The other doctor was an internist who’s probably in his late 30’s and has served on admissions committees. He actually said something I’d been thinking but had been afraid to say to anyone for fear of seeming cynical: “look, when you go in for an interview, you’re not going to say, ‘I didn’t know whether I wanted to be a doctor until I shadowed this guy for 3 days, and then I knew!’ Yeah right!” He also said that the empahsis on the applicant “knowing what he’s getting into,” at least from a med school admissions point of view, mainly concerns kids going right from college to med school, and that I would be viewed as more mature than they. My uncle also put me in touch with a hospital chief of staff, who is so busy that I’ve given up on him getting back to me, but he did give me a small bit of advice and suggested that the first thing I do is get some post-bacc applications.
So I really don’t know what to do. Websites and applications are telling me the first thing I need to do is shadow and volunteer, but actual real-life doctors are telling me don’t bother and don’t put much stock in websites! I don’t know whom to trust. And I’m wondering if maybe this discrepancy is due to the emphasis on people demonstrating that they know what they’re getting into being a very recent phenomenon. Maybe it’s something that has just arisen in the past 10 years or so as career changing has become more common, and back when the doctors I’ve talked to were in med school, all that mattered was GPA, science grades, and MCAT scores.
Anyone know whether this is true? Anyone know older physicians who’ve mentioned that it didn’t used to be this way, but they’ve seen this phenomenon on the rise?

It’s good that your looking ahead and planning things out.
Medical education changes over time and so do the applicants and paradigms for med school admissions. The doctors that you mentioned were admitted at a different time.
So, yes, schools want to see some patient contact now, but mostly they need to see that you know what you’re getting yourself into. Which gets us back to patient contact very quickly. How you “get” that is up to you. Shadowing and volunteering are good options. Getting your EMT, CNA, or First Responder certification is good option too. Hospice is a remarkable experience and the training isn’t long. Homeless shelters, suicide hotlines, part-time work in a medical setting, etc. are all fair came! Most importantly, choose something that you genuinely want to do, not just something “to get you into med school”.
Anything that shows direct involvement in your community and/or with patients is good. (Take a look at www.volunteermatch.org to see some of what’s going on in your area).
Juggling volunteer/shadowing or other patient contact work with your post-bacc courses is just that: juggling! Find a balance between your courses and whatever else you do, including patient contact. It is, of course, important to keep your grades up!

I do agree with Mary that things have changed. I have no clue how many people applied when the physicians that you are talking about gained acceptances. Now, there are up to 35,000 or more applying for about 16,600 spots take or give a little. So yes, they have to emphasize different things now also the MCAT averages for accepted applicants has slowly been creeping up as well as average GPA, so now there is some emphasis on other things aside from numbers. Things like EC’s that prove that you are willing to give back to your community, volunteering or working in a clinical setting, shadowing different physicians to see what their job entails, leadership, research (this is emphasized more at research heavy schools but it is by no means a must have to get in), etc…So, to make yourself attractive as an applicant to adcoms (oh and the voice of one adcom is not all, it is usually the combined voices of adcom members that dictate whom gets and acceptance) you do have to have all the I’s dotted and the T’s crossed.

BTW why are you only considering formal post-baccs? have you thought about doing this on your own?


BTW why are you only considering formal post-baccs? have you thought about doing this on your own?

Yes, in fact, the more I think about it, the more I think that may be the thing to do. I’ve tended to lean toward formal post-baccs so far because I’ve thought that they would make it easier to get financial aid and do it full time, which I would prefer over spending 4 years taking 1 evening class per semester, but maybe that’s not true.

When I was first getting started with my undergrad stuff I asked my kid’s pediatrician about volunteering and what he had done. His response… he laughed and shook his head and said he couldn’t believe the things applicants had to do in order to apply to med school. He said he never volunteered anyuwhere. Keep in mind he is a young doc about 40, so that tells you how much has change in the past 10 -15 years.
I do think it is virtually impossible to get accepted to med school now without clinical volunteering experiences on your application.