Best Medical Mission Trips: How Travel Helps Students Prepare for a Career in the Medical Field
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Best Medical Mission Trips: How Travel Helps Students Prepare for a Career in the Medical Field

How Travel Can Help Students Prepare for a Career in the Medical Field

High school is the perfect time to plan and prepare for a career in the medical field. Budding medical professionals and nursing students seek out international medical relief programs or medical mission trip opportunities to serve underserved and vulnerable communities build public health education and learn basic medical care in a developing country.

Travel medical volunteers support local medical professionals on medical missions and shadow local doctors and local nurses. These high school or college students often travel to South America and work with qualified medical professionals. Students return from their journey as more mature and independent young adults, ready to take what they’ve learned and apply it to the rest of their lives.

In this post, we’ll explore different ways to prepare for pre-med programs as a medical volunteer. We’ll discuss how traveling can help students get into their desired pre-med programs.

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Are Pre-Med Programs Competitive?

Pre-med students must complete rigorous courses in biology, physics and chemistry and take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) before heading to medical school. For this reason, pre-med programs look for students with strong academic records and proof that they have the discipline to succeed in a pre-med program.

College admissions officers also look for students who possess qualities and experiences that can help them become great doctors High school students can prepare for pre-med by taking the right classes, gaining experience in the medical field, and developing skills they might use as a doctor.

What Classes Should You Take in High School If You Want to Be a Doctor?

The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) recommends that high school students prepare academically by building solid skills in math and science. You might focus on studying the following subjects:

  • Science: Options at your school might include biology, physics and chemistry. Taking these courses will help you determine how interested you are in medicine and if a medical career is right for you. Also, you’ll need to take many science courses in a pre-med program and medical school, so high school can help you prepare and build knowledge to succeed in college. With a solid foundation in science, you’ll also be prepared to study for the MCAT. Consider taking science electives when possible.
  • Math: Make sure to take math courses like pre-calculus and calculus in high school. You’ll be taking several math courses in a pre-med program and advanced science courses will incorporate high-level math. Math courses will also help prepare you for the MCAT. If possible, add a statistics course to your curriculum.
  • English: As a student and physician, you’ll need to know how to write and communicate well. Doctors write reports and communicate with patients and medical staff every day. Strive to excel in your English courses and you’ll build solid study and analytical skills as a result.

What classes should you take in high school if you want to be a doctor?

Even though science, math, and English are most relevant to a medical career, you’ll want to do well in all of your high school courses. Good grades are critical to getting accepted into your top college and pre-med program and will help you develop a great work ethic for facing the challenges ahead.

1. What AP Classes Should You Take for Pre-Med?

If available, aim to take advanced placement (AP) classes such as AP science and math courses. More advanced courses, as opposed to basic courses, will help you prepare better for pre-med coursework and will also help keep you from feeling overwhelmed when courses get tough.

2. Can Learning Another Language Help Students Get Into Medical School?

Learning another language sparkles on a college application. Language skills can be incredibly useful to a physician and help them overcome language barriers when they communicate with patients and families. It also enables them to provide better care overall for patients who don’t speak English.

High school is an excellent time to start learning another language before you’ll be busy with other college courses. Plus, if you learn another language while you’re still in high school, you’ll have an exceptional quality to add to your college application. With a growing need for bilingual physicians, admissions counselors will appreciate the time and effort you put into learning another language.

What Qualities Are Colleges Looking for in High School Students?

In general, most schools want candidates who demonstrate academic excellence. Most schools also consider a student’s life experiences and other qualities that will help them excel in college and in a medical career. Pre-med programs look for students with the following attributes:

  • Altruism
  • Communication skills
  • Desire to learn
  • Honesty and ethics
  • Leadership skills
  • Reliability
  • Resilience
  • Adaptability
  • Social skills and teamwork

As you can see, colleges want students who can succeed in their role as doctors, who can contribute to the world of medicine, and who can also treat patients and peers with empathy, compassion and respect.

Ways to Make a College Application Stand out for Pre-Med School

Ways to make a college application stand out for pre-med school

In addition to good grades, admissions counselors look for students who demonstrate passion and who’ve had interesting experiences. They want well-rounded individuals who bring a variety of skills and knowledge to the program. So, how do you build a background that will set you apart from the competition? Here are tips to help you stand out.

1. Be a Role Model

As a high school student, you likely have many opportunities to set a good example for peers and develop teamwork skills. Being a role model for other students will help you when it’s time to request letters of recommendation. You’ll have established a better relationship with other students and teachers and your teachers will be able to talk about the effort you made to go above and beyond to help others around you. Your drive to learn and spread positivity can set you apart from students who only focused on getting good grades. Here are a few ways you can be a role model in school:

  • Work on becoming more comfortable in group projects and working as a team
  • Ask your teachers for help if there’s something you don’t understand
  • Complete your work on time
  • Help others in need

2. Be Part of Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities show you’re interested in topics beyond schoolwork and will make you stand out as a unique individual. It also shows you’re committed to your chosen path because you can balance activities with schoolwork successfully. Extracurricular activities also enable you to interact with supervisors, coaches or teachers who can also be great resources and provide letters of recommendation. It’s important to focus on choosing activities that are meaningful to you rather than packing your schedule with too many different activities. A few ideas include:

  • Play on a sports team: Playing sports can boost your college application. There are many benefits to playing sports that will help you in school and beyond. For example, playing sports helps you develop teamwork skills which you’ll use as a part of a medical team. Playing sports also shows discipline and perseverance, important qualities for pre-med students.
  • Join a volunteer program: Join a volunteer program: Volunteer work can help you get into pre-med programs and medical school. It’s one of the best ways to show your dedication to serving others. You might volunteer with a program in your community, such as helping out at a homeless shelter, tutoring students or spending time with an elderly companion. Any form of community service shows colleges you care about others and are driven to make a positive impact.
  • Volunteer at a hospital: Volunteering at a hospital or medical facility is one of the best extracurricular activities for high school students interested in pre-med programs. If you volunteer at a hospital, you’ll gain experience interacting directly with patients, and you’ll get to observe doctors and nurses. As a result, you’ll get an idea of what the job will actually be like and if it’s the career path you want to pursue. Lastly, volunteering at a hospital shows admissions counselors that you are serious about studying medicine and have realistic expectations of a medical career.

3. Volunteer Abroad

Volunteering abroad can help students who want to work in the medical field and set them apart from other qualified candidates. You’ll learn so many valuable skills when you volunteer in another country, and you’re bound to transform into a more independent, well-rounded young adult. Volunteering abroad allows you to learn about other cultures while developing greater empathy and compassion. Colleges want students who would make compassionate doctors and who genuinely care about patients.

In some cases, you may be able to assist in providing medical care, which will give you experience and demonstrate your drive to help others. You’ll broaden your horizon as you learn more about health and wellness in other countries. You may also get to work with underrepresented communities, which will help you gain a better understanding of the challenges patients face and how economic factors affect health. Admissions counselors are likely to favor candidates who have worked with underserved communities.

Students helping a small village in Thailand on the Come With Nothing program.

Ways Travel Can Help Students Who Want to Work in the Medical Field

Traveling says a lot about a student. First, it shows you are courageous and passionate enough to leave your comfort zone and journey into a completely new culture. Second, it shows that you are willing to adapt to unique situations and challenges to help patients in various socio-economic settings.

Reasons to consider traveling for any student who wants to work in health care

Traveling, in general, has tons of benefits and provides numerous opportunities to learn new things about yourself and the world. Through traveling, you can recognize and develop key skills admissions counselors and potential employers look for in candidates. Here are reasons to consider traveling for any student who wants to work in health care:

  • Learn another language: Traveling can help you learn another language quickly. Being bilingual will help your application stand out and will be incredibly beneficial once you start working with patients. According to the 2017 American Community Survey, nearly 22% of Americans speak a language other than English at home. Doctors need to be able to communicate with all patients to provide the best care possible and learning another language is an invaluable tool to have in your doctor’s bag.
  • Learn about other cultures: Traveling can help you get into a pre-med program and medical school in ways beyond the classroom experience. You’ll need to be able to understand different cultures as you interact with patients of diverse backgrounds. Traveling can help you develop cultural sensitivity and enable you to build better relationships with patients and peers. Pre-med programs are looking for students who understand other perspectives and respect all cultures. With a greater understanding of culture and the world, you’ll be able to resolve issues and make fair decisions more effectively.
  • Help others prepare for travel: When you travel, you’ll learn ways to prepare for international journeys and how to stay healthy along the way. You’ll gain knowledge of potential diseases and health concerns in other countries which can help you prepare patients for traveling. It can also help you stop or reduce future disease outbreaks. You’ll know what questions to ask patients before and after their trips so you can keep patients and their families healthy.
  • Get inspired: Do you know you want to study medicine and help others but aren’t sure which specialty to choose? As you travel, you might realize you want to be a traveling nurse or doctor or volunteer to help with international health concerns through programs like the Peace Corps or Doctors Without Borders.

Prepare for Pre-Med Programs in High School With Rustic Pathways

Traveling or volunteering abroad is essential for helping students stand out on their pre-med application and developing key skills they’ll use in college and their career. At Rustic Pathways, we offer language and skills programs, including programs that provide students opportunities to earn medical certifications such as Wilderness Medicine or CPR. Or you could participate in a variety of other community service programs based on your personal interests.

For example, students who enroll in Community Health and Wilderness First Aid will travel to Thailand to earn a Wilderness First Aid and CPR certification while experiencing a new culture. Develop basic medical skills and learn about community health while assisting with health screenings and participating in infrastructure projects. Student travelers leave the program with a greater understanding of community health and the world at large.

Our Public Health in the Caribbean program is perfect for students who want to work alongside health care professionals in the Dominican Republic. Work on important public health projects, immerse in the local culture, and develop Spanish language skills in a health care setting. Students also earn a Wilderness First Aid and CPR certifications.

At Rustic Pathways, we’re proud to help high school students prepare for pre-med programs, and we’re excited to help you make a real impact. If you’re ready to sign up for one of our transformative programs, contact our team today!

Contact Rustic Pathways for assistance finding a travel program for students interested in medical careers

About the Author

Jack Weinstein

Content Production Manager

Jack has spent his professional career as a writer and editor. Before joining Rustic, he worked as a journalist in Kansas and Colorado, taught English in Swaziland, and transitioned to marketing roles in the Boston and New York startup worlds. Jack is excited to channel his love of storytelling and his appreciation for education as Rustic’s Content Production Manager. When not working, Jack is either watching baseball or planning his next adventure. Jack and his wife, Blythe, live in Brooklyn.