Gain experience


Gaining experience during your undergraduate career serves two important purposes. It allows you to explore the health care sector to determine if it is a good career path for you, and it enhances your credentials for applying to a professional program. Many programs require that you complete a minimum number of volunteering or shadowing hours to be considered for admission.


Shadowing is a vital component to understanding more about a professional field of interest. Shadowing involves following a professional throughout his or her day, observing the ins-and-outs of the profession as a whole.

Most graduate and professional programs in health sciences require a minimum number of hours of shadowing experience.

Keen observation followed by personal reflection after each experience will help you get the most out of your shadowing hours. Ask yourself:

  • What is the most surprising thing you learned or observed today?
  • Why did it surprise you?
  • How does this experience shape and mature your understanding of the health care field?


Volunteering is another vital component to understand more about a professional field of interest. While shadowing involves simply observing, volunteering allows you to actively perform tasks and make contributions to a workplace or organization. Experiences where you have direct patient contact are highly regarded by most admissions representatives.

Most admissions representatives want to see that you give freely of your time to support your community as well.


Research experience is encouraged but not required in all health care disciplines or professional programs. If you are interested in attending a research-focused institution or applying to a research-heavy program, obtaining significant experience performing research will be an important part of your application.

Contact faculty members who are undertaking research that matches your interests and volunteer in their labs. The VCU Office of Research offers additional information on undergraduate research opportunities.

Health care experience

Some healthcare opportunities required certification or additional training in order to obtain employment. While others do not.

Certification not usually required

  • Patient care technician
  • Nonmedical patient transporter
  • Medical scribe/medical transcriptionist
  • Patient services representative
  • Dispensing optician
  • Research/laboratory assistant
  • Home care aid


Most health care opportunities require certification prior to employment, even internships or part-time positions. Some certification programs can be completed throughout the semester or over summer break. Each program has a different application process, cost, and time to complete.

Opportunities that require certification include:

  • Certified nursing assistant
  • Dental assistant
  • EMT-B
  • Medical assistant
  • Pharmacy technician
  • Surgical technician
  • Phlebotomy
  • Personal care aid

To find opportunities to obtain health care certification explore these resources:

  • The Allied Health Education/Certification Program listing has over 2000 CAAHEP accredited programs that prepare entry level practitioners in 25 health sciences professions
  • The Community College Workforce Alliance prepares individuals with quality curriculum and job placement support required for a successful career in the health care industry
  • Our Common healthcare certifications listing

Leadership/student organization involvement

Developing skills in leadership, teamwork and interpersonal communication will help you succeed in all health care fields. Many students gain these skills in student organizations or through part-time or full-time work. Admissions representatives often prefer to see leadership experience both in- and outside of health care settings.

Having significant involvement and experiences in a few organizations is preferred over shallow experience in a multitude of organizations. Explore MyOrgs@VCU for a complete list of student organizations.

Virginia Commonwealth University
Division of Student Success
907 Floyd Avenue, Room 143
Box 842007
Richmond, Virginia 23284-2007

View graphic versionView graphic versionView graphic version