From Engineer to Physician

Hey everyone, I’m new to the site and thought I’d come in to say hi and get some general advice on my plans.

A little about myself:

I’m a 26 year old RF design engineer interested in pursuing medicine. I graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering and a minor in Web Technologies. In college I worked for a startup as a front end web developer. I didn’t think the startup was the right decision for my career and left when I got an offer for my current job. I’ve been with the same company since 2014 and although I don’t hate my job, I just can’t picture myself doing it in the long run. I don’t feel like I’m really making a significant impact in people’s lives and the world. I want to do something where the work that I’d be doing would be helping someone directly. It’s something that I think I’ve always wanted to do but was steered in a different direction because of what I thought was more practical for me.

My plans:

I made my decision to pursue medicine just a few months ago in April. Ever since then I’ve mainly just been planning things out, gathering information, and looking for volunteer work. Here’s what I have so far at a high level:

  1. get some clinical experience in a hospital/free clinic
  2. participate in community service projects and events
  3. get into (formal) post bacc program (where I’ll participate in research) - planning to apply for Fall 2018 semester
  4. med school, residency, etc.

    My concerns:

    My biggest concern right now is actually getting clinical volunteering experience. The post bacc program I want to get into seems to favor applicants that have some clinical experience. It makes sense but everywhere I go, it seems that they don’t take any volunteers or they already have too many volunteers. I applied for the COPE Health Scholars program and didn’t even get a response. I have a list of about 20 free clinics that I’ve called and so far none are taking any volunteers. Is there a better way to approach this? I’m thinking signing up for hospital volunteering without having any such experience may be a factor in all this so I decided to take a CPR/AED/First Aid certification class to get some training, and hopefully network through the class as well. Has anyone else struggled with this?

    I also wanted to ask …for those of you that had full time jobs when you made your decision, when did you actually quit? A big reason why I can’t get any volunteering positions is because of my full-time job. I was thinking of quitting to free up my schedule but it’s very scary haha.

    If you have any other comments about my plans, please let me know!

    Thanks very much in advance and good luck to you all!


Former electrical engineer here, about to start MS3 in a few days. Your reasoning for wanting to leave engineering sounds very similar to mine. I left my full-time job in order to go back to school to do the pre-reqs full-time (DIY post-bach), but was able to work part-time while doing that. I then went back to full-time work while going through the application cycle(s). Quit that job a few days prior to starting med school.

I wouldn’t sweat the clinical volunteering aspect too much. What you need to be able to demonstrate on your med school application is that you know what being a doctor is like (i.e., what am I getting myself into?). While clinical volunteering can be helpful in that regard, shadowing or direct patient care experience is probably more valuable. I would suggest focusing first on shadowing, and be sure that this is what you want to do (is the day-to-day practice of medicine for you?).

Regarding volunteering, I got in with no recent volunteering experience. I would not suggest this route as the most optimal way to get into medical school, but it can work, and goes to show you that volunteering hours are just a part of your application. Getting BLS certification is a good idea, and volunteering opportunities with hospitals may require that certification anyway. Community volunteering is probably just as good as clinical volunteering, provided you have other clinical exposure.

Good luck with your path, and let us know if we can help any further.

Hey thanks for the reply! You make it all sound so easy haha

I was actually hoping that clinical volunteering would be something that demonstrated that I knew what I was going into. I thought maybe I’d start with doing some menial work at clinics/hospitals and then work my way up to shadowing and getting direct patient care experience. I will take your advice though and try to focus more on finding some shadowing work, especially since I haven’t had any luck with clinical volunteering.

So, if you didn’t have any recent community service volunteering as an applicant, you must have had pretty great shadowing/direct patient care experiences to have gotten accepted. Would you happen to have any tips on finding a good shadowing opportunity and making the most out of it? I think there was an episode on this podcast about this very topic but was wondering if you had anything besides what was discussed on that episode/what worked very well for you from that episode if you listened to it.

I really appreciate the help!

I was like Bennard and had zero volunteering since high school (was in military, debatable as to how that was viewed) and zero direct patient care. I did have 40 hours of shadowing the same physician (4-5 shifts in ED).

The “trick” is to reflect on what experiences you have had in life and to translate them into something that is useful in the medical field. Lots of thing can teach you leadership, working with some autonomy/responsibility, empathy, interpersonal communication skills/teamwork, etc. Admissions wants to know that you understand what you’re getting yourself into, that you have the ability for introspection/reflection for personal growth, etc. Some people show these traits through clinical volunteering, some people use all of their experiences to relate.

Note that no one in there does it say HOW to achieve these competencies… There are just some experiences (ie volunteering) that seem to fit the bill more easily. In the end, I think it’s more about what you got out of the experiences (in your application/interview) than what you actually did. That being said, I think shadowing is one of those things that you really need to do, and some schools overtly require it.


It was super exciting to hear your post come up on Dr. Gray’s podcast. I too am a engineer (chemical) who has decided to pursue medicine, applying in 2018. I am having the same issues you are – many volunteering spots are competitive and only have times (8-5). However, I found a nearby free clinic that operates in the evenings so you may have some luck with clinics that are open late. Many free clinics are operated mostly by volunteers, so they may have more availabilities. Personal connections are best for finding a doctor to shadow, as I found a friend’s friend who was willing. I’ve tried emailing doctors, and didn’t even get a response. Shadowing was actually extremely valuable for me, as I was kind of hesitant about medicine (though having an itch to do it since I was a kid). After I shadowed, though, I knew that it was the path for me. I agree with what Dr. Gray said – to quit earlier. I’ll probably quit soon after if I get some interviews. However, I don’t have the guts to tell my boss…haha.

Good luck!

Hey there! yea it was so cool to hear my questions answered on the show! Thanks so much Dr. Gray! :smiley:

Just to answer Dr. Gray’s questions:

I think I should have made a more clear distinction about volunteering and the struggles I’ve been facing. When I was looking into community service volunteering, my work schedule conflicted with a lot of the opportunities that I came across. When I started looking into clinical volunteering specifically, it didn’t seem like anyone was accepting. I didn’t even get to the point of discussing schedules and availability with any hospitals/clinics. I think I just need to continue on and if I my schedule gets in the way too often I will consider taking the leap and quitting my job. If it comes to that I don’t think it would be that big of an issue from a practical standpoint. I have a good amount of money saved up and moving back in with my parents is still an option fortunately.

But I do have other concerns about quitting that Dr. Gray had touched upon in the podcast. He asked whether or not I am sure that being a doctor would ‘scratch the itch’ of doing work that was going to make a significant impact in people’s lives. Right now, I think that it will just based on the idea of being a doctor - helping people get and/or stay healthy and saving lives. But to be honest I don’t think that I have all of the information. There are things that a doctor does day-to-day that I just don’t know about that I may not be okay with or my idea of being a doctor might just be completely off. And so, I think I need more data to support this decision. I think that would best come in the form of first-hand experience of what it’s like to be in the environment a doctor is in and seeing what a doctor does on an average day. I don’t want to leave what I have now for something that I just have warm and fuzzies for. So I’m really hoping that I can find clinical/shadowing experiences that work with my current schedule or work out an alternative schedule with my boss so that I don’t have to quit before I confirm my decision.


Thanks for the tips! I was actually more focused on free clinics because yes, I was under the impression that they were mostly run by volunteers. And I figured that the bigger hospitals were a lot more concerned about liability issues and image so they’d be more selective. But, I’m determined and will keep trying. I think I will have to venture out further from where I live. And yes, I think shadowing is a must. And from reading the responses on this forum I think that’s what I’ll be focused on procuring right now. Wish you the best and hope you do well on the apps and interviews!


I appreciate the response! Glad to know that some of you were able to matriculate without the need for clinical work. I think that just means I have to really start thinking about how my experiences thus far can be used as tools to help people as a doctor. Again, I’m still kind of in the beginning stages of my decision to pursue medicine and I wanted to find clinical work to be sure of myself going down this path. But, I think maybe shadowing would be better for me in the regard though.

Again, good luck to you all on your journeys. Hope that some of my rambling helped some of you out and I really appreciate your time …thanks! :slight_smile:

Check out Its a volunteer clinical experience program run in conjunction with UCLA. There is a 30-hour initial training on 3 weekend days, but after that, the commitment is only a single 4hr shift per week, with evening shifts available. You rotate through the various departments, so it’s a well rounded experience. I don’t live in LA, but they work with a couple of my local hospitals. They also have a summer program that gives you MCAT prep in addition to the clinical experience. This is most likely what I will be trying to get into in 2019.

I’m not sure where you are, but do check with the larger hospitals for any volunteer programs like this one.