In recent weeks multiple people have asked me “How important is it to have paid work experience prior to applying for graduate school?” Interestingly, I have also had numerous health employers go out of their way to tell me that employees or graduate interns who have had meaningful work and life experience prior to graduate school are much more valuable, productive and impactful. In fact many feel so strongly about it that they plan to put even more emphasis on relevant work experience and demonstrated skills in their hiring decisions. For this and many other reasons, I believe it is critical to have at least 2 and preferably 3-5+ years of paid work experience prior to applying for graduate school. This is particularly important in public health, business or public policy but having relevant work and life experience before medical, nursing, law and other health professions schools is also valuable.
Five other key reasons to get solid work experience before applying to graduate school in the health professions include:
- Greater exposure and experience will help you be more clear and certain about what you want to do and what you need out of graduate school to do it. This is invaluable when choosing the degree, program and school the best suit you.
- Most of the strongest MPH, MHA, MPP and MBA programs now require at least 2 or more years of paid post bachelor’s work experience before applying. Greater experience will not only help you meet the requirement but you will be a more competitive applicant. Work and life experience can also help differentiate you for medical school and other health professions school admission. Going to the best possible school that also fits you and your goals makes a huge difference in your education, network, career opportunities and return on investment.
- Given the high and rising costs of graduate programs and medical school, you need to do be sure you make the right career path and corresponding graduate school and program choice.
- You will have more to contribute in graduate school and will get more out of it. In addition to having smaller courses with class participation being a major factor, many graduate programs are increasingly using case studies, interdisciplinary team work, real world projects and experiential learning that draw heavily on students’ prior experience and skills. The more experience you have the more you will be able to fully contribute with confidence. You will feel more comfortable with fellow students who have experience. You will also be able to better choose courses and qualify for unique program opportunities with more experience and overall have a more well-rounded, enjoyable experience.
- You will be more competitive for internships, fellowships and jobs that you really want and will be better able to hit the ground running from the start. You will likely be able to get a better job with more responsibility and higher compensation.
I know all about the many reasons why many are very motivated to go straight through to graduate school. There are also solid programs that will admit you without experience and even provide you with funding. However, given the realities of graduate programs and employment today, I feel more strongly than ever in my over 30 years in the health field that work experience prior to graduate school is essential. The conundrum is how to get work experience in the health field without a graduate degree but it is possible and will be the subject of an up-coming My HCN blog and webinar. Stay tuned. I welcome your feedback, particularly from those of you who have gone to graduate school with and without prior experience.