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Academic Advising Center

Professional Development

Professional schools view applicants holistically. They are looking for students who have clearly demonstrated knowledge of the profession, a commitment to serve others, and scientific curiosity. It’s important to have experience in the areas below in order to be well prepared for a career in the health professions.

Healthcare Experiences

Clinical Volunteering

As a student pursuing a career in healthcare, it is important to spend time in a clinical setting and around patients. This does NOT mean you are expected to give hands on care, which you should never do unless you have the proper training and certification. Direct patient care is only expected of pre-Physician Assistant students, and those students are certified to perform those duties (CNA, Medical Assistant, etc.). It does mean that you have an opportunity to understand the nature of a doctor-patient relationship, see how patients interact with the system, and learn about the challenges patients face. Hear their stories. Reasons for this include:

  1. Most students indicated they want to “Help people.” They are convinced they love working with people and want a career where they make a difference in people’s lives that is meaningful and of value. Working with people who are ill, stressed or in crisis is very different from working with those who are healthy and feeling well. Students may determine they truly like working with people. Some will find they enjoy working with those who are ill; others will find they don’t.
  2. It is imperative to understand and respect the need for teamwork within healthcare. Students need to experience this type of teamwork and recognize working as a team is expected and necessary.
  3. Healthcare professionals assume a great deal of responsibility for others. Volunteering provides a glimpse of this to students but offers enough to help students identify and begin to appreciate this aspect of the profession they wish to pursue.
  4. The healthcare professions are constantly changing. Volunteering in a clinical setting allows exposure to these changes and provides a realistic understanding of the field.

See a list of clinical volunteer sites on our Resources page.

Don’t forget about shadowing a professional in your area of interest. That is a great way to become more familiar with the challenges and expectations of the profession. You will need to find professionals to shadow yourself. Start by asking your own doctor, family friends, or ask for recommendations from other pre-health students. Shadowing experiences can last anywhere from a day to a semester or more. Typically once you find a professional to shadow, this person is then able to recommend others in the field.

Please read our shadowing handout (PDF, 188 KB) to get the most from your experience. You can also find more information on our Resources page.

Community Service

Health-care is community service. You should express your personal interests and passions through the community service activities you choose. Experiences for community service may be done at schools, homeless shelters, non-profit organizations, or a variety of other settings. They provide experience beyond superficial aspects and demonstrate your personal interests and commitment to work within the community. Activities are usually more meaningful if you continue them for a year or more.

Please see our Resources page for ideas on where to volunteer in the community.


Professional schools review applicants holistically and look for much more than good grades and test scores. The AAMC has developed a list of core competencies for pre-medical students, but other professional schools look for very similar attributes. Even if you’re not pre-med, you should be striving to demonstrate these competencies in your professional development.

AAMC Core Competencies

Competency Planning Guide

Leadership and Student Organizations
While at UF you will want to explore your interests and strengths through on and off campus activities and experiences. We encourage getting involved to increase your leadership skills and demonstrate initiative. You can gain leadership experience in a variety of ways including employment, being a camp counselor or TA, or participating in student organizations. Participation is not limited to Pre-Health organizations, any organization that interests you is fine. You do not need to be an officer but you do need to show leadership qualities by taking initiative and following through. Being a leader means more than being a member. Explore leadership opportunities.


Students often ask, “Do I have to do research to get into medical, dental, veterinary, etc school?”

Research is not an admission requirement, although it demonstrates intellectual curiosity, critical thinking skills, and team work. Often doing research leads to a paper, abstract, or poster which demonstrates communication skills. Even if you do not intend to pursue research in your career, most health professionals are life-long consumers of research. Therefore, developing an appreciation for it will be useful in the future.

Research does not have to be science based but can be within your non-science major interests. You should pursue research with consistency and commitment, not just as a way to “look good.”

How do I find a research project? Many students are unsure of where to find research. The UF Honors Program website gives excellent advice on how to get involved. Taking the one-credit Science for Life course (IDH3931) is also a great way to become aware of the many research opportunities on campus. Whatever approach you take, BE PERSISTENT. There are plenty of research positions on campus, but it may take asking quite a few people before you find one that’s available.

Do I have to do research for credit? No. Doing research for credit is fine, but it’s not necessary. Having the experience and learning from it are the important things. There will be space to list your research experiences on your application to professional school.

Please see our Resources page for research ideas and links.