It was clear from the moment your child started picking up toys that they’d be destined for a career in medicine. When other tykes were playing with trucks, your little one was always reaching for plastic stethoscopes and imitation blood pressure cuffs. That early interest in medicine has since blossomed into a true passion — they’re not shy about letting others know they dream of being a doctor.
Though it’s too early to start thinking about medical school, you want to find ways to help your child work toward their intended career path. There are actually a lot of options. In fact, medical camps and programs geared toward tomorrow’s health care providers are becoming extremely common. It can be a little overwhelming when you start to see how many choices there are.
So, how do you choose the right medical camp? It’s all about formulating a strategy. Keep reading to find out how you can find the right fit for your future physician.
How to choose a medical camp for your child
If you’re feeling overwhelmed about where to begin, there are several ways to start compiling a quality list of medical camps. Online searches can leave your head swimming, so try a more focused approach. Start by making use of your network. If you know other parents who have children with similar interests, ask if they have any program recommendations.
You can also keep tabs on the catalog of pipeline programs listed on the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). These programs are intended to guide students toward careers in medicine, and many of them provide opportunities for low-income and underrepresented communities. Be aware that your child may not be eligible for some of them and that they vary in duration.
It’s also wise to search for other camps available through universities. Many institutions host summer programs for students interested in medicine. Most will have camps for college students, but you’d be surprised how many programs are available for much younger children. And your child’s age can further inform your choices.
Below, you’ll see a breakdown of how to find a great program for kids at every stage of their pre-med journey.
Choosing a medical camp for children in elementary school
You may have some difficulty finding camps specifically devoted to medicine for very young children, particularly if you live in a remote area. This is less problematic than you might think. Lemi-Ola Erinkitola, founder of The Critical Thinking Child, is well-versed in helping parents find summer camp opportunities that support their little ones’ interests and learning styles. She thinks young children interested in medicine can benefit substantially from more general STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) programs.
"I advise preschool and early elementary parents to first seek out STEM and STEAM programs."
“I advise preschool and early elementary parents to first seek out STEM and STEAM programs, and then pay attention to what their child enjoys,” Erinkitola explains.
Choosing a medical camp for children in middle school
As your child moves into middle school, they’ll likely have more and more questions about what life as a doctor is really like. It’s a good idea to look for programs that emphasize real-world experience.
“Older students may benefit greatly from camps that offer a teacher-practitioner model where the instructors include field professionals, such as doctors, nurses, and technology specialists,” Erinkitola suggests.
It’s also wise to make sure the medical camps you’re considering go beyond traditional lectures. “Hands-on projects and live demonstrations that nurture spatial thinking skills are very important,” Erinkitola explains.
Though you may notice some camps geared toward middle school students focus on a particular medical specialty, don’t feel as though your child has to determine their exact career path just yet.
Heather Brathwaite, director of the Med/Vet Summer Leadership Academy for high school and college students at St. George’s University (SGU), suggests students may not be ready to determine their specialty while still in middle school. “They have so much growing and developing and exploring to do,” she explains.
"They have so much growing and developing and exploring to do."
Choosing a medical camp for children in high school
Start paying even more attention to the camp’s planned activities once you’re evaluating programs for a child in high school. Most field trips will provide learning opportunities, but camps that emphasize clinical exposure may prove more beneficial in the long run.
“Visits to medical facilities can raise awareness about current issues in the real world and help kids find their focus and passion,” Erinkitola says.
High school students who are serious about pursuing a career in medicine will likely want to start developing the hard skills they’ll need to become a physician. There are obviously limitations to how much and what types of experience teenagers will be able to gain, but some medical camps give high school students the chance to start working with cadavers. The program at SGU even teaches students how to suture.
"One of the things that we pride ourselves on, and that I think is really important, is that it’s very hands-on."
“One of the things that we pride ourselves on, and that I think is really important, is that it’s very hands-on,” Brathwaite says.
Choosing a medical camp for college students
Pre-med students in college have access to a nearly endless list of opportunities to gain experience for medical school applications. You can make the medical camp and internship selection process easier by focusing on ones that really provide a glimpse of what medical school is like. SGU’s summer academy even features an exam near the end to help with this.
“We try to give them a feel for the volume of information that they're going to have to take in when they’re in medical school,” Brathwaite says. She also adds that receiving course credit is not dependent on achieving a certain score on the test. “The exam is really just to show them how much they didn't take in,” she explains.
Keep in mind your child’s interests outside of clinical practice when comparing programs as well. SGU’s summer program, for example, is a great option for students who are interested in global health. Undergraduate students in the program learn about the role physicians play as part of an international network, not just as individual practitioners.
Brathwaite says college student attendees are taught about how veterinary medicine, human medicine, environmental health, and financial needs are interwoven. “We just try to get them to see how all those components work together,” she explains.
A few other medical camp considerations
There are a few other things to keep in mind when evaluating camp options. The first is to make sure your child still has the chance to be a kid and enjoy themselves. While lectures and labs are great, social interactions and opportunities to have fun are equally important.
“They do want to have some fun while they're here in addition to learning, so we try to balance it.”
“They're on summer vacation,” Brathwaite reminds. “They do want to have some fun while they're here in addition to learning, so we try to balance it.”
And be sure to keep diversity in mind. “Look for camps whose marketing efforts encourage recruiting a good mix of boys and girls,” Erinkitola suggests. It’s also good to ensure a variety of cultures are represented. Your child will have a more well-rounded experience because of it.
Mapping your child’s MD path
Whether your child is ready for a college-level medical camp or is merely looking to dip their toes in the water, there’s a program perfect for them. Use these tips to help determine which options meet their needs. Soon enough, you’ll be able to select from a shortened list of options.
As your child continues to learn about the road to becoming a doctor, they’re bound to run into naysayers here and there. Some people will point out how difficult it is to get into medical school or how long the training takes. It might be helpful to remind them of all the benefits as they pursue this career.
Make sure your child doesn’t lose sight of how rewarding life as a physician can be by passing along our article, “Why Become a Doctor? MDs Share What They Love Most About Their Careers.” You might even learn a thing or two yourself.
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