Samhita Nelamangala spent the summer after First Year interning at a hospital. She made it all happen with a bit of luck, lots of good sense, and a Cavalier football game.
To undergraduate students, “networking” often sounds like a dirty word or, at the very least, irrelevant. It’s neither. In fact, all college students should get comfortable with the concept. After all, over the next few years we’ll meet professionals, teachers, and peers with the potential to affect our futures. I realized networking’s importance on an average game day. My band-mates and I left Scott Stadium for the Corner after hours of playing pep songs. We stood in line for some ice cream behind a father and son, whom I assumed to be a typical pair of Cavalier enthusiasts. The man, noticing our band uniforms, turned to my friend to ask if she wouldn’t mind talking to them about her experience in the marching band, because his son was a clarinetist and aspiring Wahoo. My friend was happy to oblige, and we all crowded around a table to talk.
Satisfied by our descriptions of life as First Years and members of the marching band, the father moved on to ask about our majors. My friends and I shyly admitted our med-school aspirations. Lo and behold, the man was a cardiologist! I listened hungrily as he talked about his practice and what it was like to be a doctor (in a city I knew well). In conclusion, he invited us to work for him if we were ever in the area (I would be). This had to be fate! Realizing I had to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I asked for his contact information and emailed him that evening. He got back to me to discuss my summer plans and to schedule a time to meet over the holidays.
I shadowed him over break and so was able to scrub into multiple procedures, observe him with patients, and even assist in the O.R. – a rare opportunity for a First Year! Before I headed back to Charlottesville, I asked if I could continue to work with him over the summer. He introduced me to the CEO and CMO of the hospital, who helped me craft a summer internship. A few months later I was back to assist a variety of hospital functions, learn about the administrative side of healthcare, and shadow other physicians.
I’m writing this post from the office of the stranger-from-the-ice-cream-shop, which should teach you (as it has me) not to be afraid to talk. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger (be safe, of course), because it might lead to something, well, pretty spectacular. Remember, the health professionals we so admire were once exactly where we are now and so are more than willing to extend a hand. You just have to ask for it. Start with a smile, sprinkle in a follow-up email or two, add a dollop of persistence, and you’ll have a world of possibilities.
Are you, like Samhita, a pre-health student? If so, UCS has a number of resources just for you — make an appointment to see a health professions adviser, subscribe to the listserv, and check out the blog for up-to-date information.