Exploring Medicine Without Giving Up Your Day Job

Hi Everyone,

Sharing some of my experience as I am in the process of transitioning from business to medicine. I completed my post-bacc and am now in a graduate degree program in biomedicine. Feel free to contact me with any questions!

    A major piece of medicine is being able to connect with patients, and to address their concerns and needs accurately.  While the “book” knowledge required to gain admission to medical school (biology, organic chemistry, physics, etc.) and MCAT scores are certainly important, the skills that aspiring students can learn from interacting with patients via patient volunteering and physician shadowing (“experientials”) are also critical to future success.  

Coming from professional backgrounds, we have an advantage that many undergraduates do not have- we have been in advanced social interactions are able to handle ourselves with poise and confidence.  We’ve had to deal with the ups and downs of end of quarter reporting, travel schedules, deliverables that did not materialize, and internal red tape that made no sense, so we are certainly more seasoned than a college senior trying to coordinate time with a group to work on a project due in two days.  This experience is paramount when interacting with patients and with physicians!

Because the “experientials” are a wealth of knowledge, start doing them on the side (night shifts, early morning shifts, and/or weekends) while still in your current career.  Some folks think medical schools make a big deal of paid vs. unpaid experientials, though, at this stage in the game, let’s focus on getting in front of patients and learning.  Obviously, medicine is a thought on your mind, though, before jumping in fully, make sure this makes sense.  

    Start by contacting your local hospital and asking what “patient volunteering” opportunities are available.  Some hospitals may offer a “HELP” (Hospital Elder Life Program) opportunity, where you will accompany patients ages 70 and older in their rooms during meal time, with the goal of engaging them in conversation and keeping them mentally stimulated during their hospital stays to reduce the incidence of delirium.  These shifts last four hours and are an exceptionally easy way to understand what it is like to interact with patients, and to begin to learn the operations of a hospital.  

Success tip: after gaining patient shadowing experience, see if you can build relationships with doctors, as you can leverage these relationships to shadow them. There is a massive difference between stopping into patients’ rooms for meals and shadowing a physician who is responsible for patient care.

Keep the following thoughts in mind while reflecting on your patient volunteering:

  1. Has this experience been/not been appealing? Could you see yourself in this setting for the next X years?

  2. What role(s) have you observed around the hospital that are appealing (Nurse, Patient Care Technician, Physician Assistant, Physician, Quality Improvement Coordinator, etc.)?

    Once the patient volunteering experience is well in hand, begin to consider if this seems appropriate and to understand if you should be taking the next step to shadowing physicians. If so, hospitals obviously have 24/7/365 availability, and the hospital may have a “shadowing coordinator” who can help you schedule physician shadowing to fit your availability. Consider shadowing as many specialties as possible (anesthesia, pediatrics, surgery, neurology, cardiology, etc.), as certain things will attract you more than others, and they are vastly different experiences.

    After beginning your patient volunteering experience and/or physician shadowing experiences, take time to reflect. Is this REALLY something that you see yourself doing? If so, let’s put together a plan to understand how to set up your academics and current career to make this work!


Great first post. I’m also working on transitioning from business to medicine but you are much further along. Did you face any challenges trying to get shadowing/volunteer experience at a hospital despite not having a pre-med background? Did it even matter? I’ve applied to a couple scribe outsourcing companies and am waiting to hear from them.


Hi LandLocked,

Thank you very much! The lack of a pre-med background did not hinder me at all. Because the position(s) are volunteer, people of any age and background probably from 18 years old or older can do them. Do not let a lack of pre-med studies hold you back.

I recommend making sure you can be interacting with patients in whatever volunteer capacity you choose; there is no substitute to being “in person” and connecting with patients and learning the hospital environment. My experience with my local HELP organization was very organized and was a great litmus test to start inching closer to medicine.

Let me know what other questions you have!

Amazing post. I’m in a similar position now: working in advertising for past 5 years and finally decided to take the leap. I thought I would be a lot more nervous, especially now that I have a one-month old baby. But I’ve realized that this feels like such a right decision that it alleviates a lot of anxiety knowing you’re pursuing what you are meant to do.
best of luck and i would definitely love to hear how your journey goes.