By: Ryan Kelly
The three capstone project examples we’re about to share come from students who managed to find that sweet spot of overlap between their available resources, the needs of their community, and an innovative solution. At the same time, each project contributed to the student’s pre-med identity and created a dominant impression for admissions committees.
Available resources: volunteer in an oncology unit
Need of community: hope and small acts of kindness during treatment
Innovative solution: personalized “get well” cards
Through this project, I’ve assembled and distributed more than 4250 handmade photo cards to chemotherapy patients. For years, I have personally handed out my cards in two hospitals and delivered them to volunteer coordinators to give out in nine others. An article in Kaiser’s Pulse Newsletter featured my project, and my cards are in the booklet given to new patients in the oncology unit. I’ve recruited a volunteer group and a chemotherapy researcher to assemble and distribute cards at this clinic. My project is growing, and I’m in the process of expanding fundraising, contacting volunteer coordinators, and recruiting more volunteers.
Instead of flowers, which aren’t allowed in chemotherapy rooms, patients find comfort in reading the inspirational poems on my cards and looking at my photographs of flowers. Many read them every single day. When I hand them out and see their grateful faces, I’m reminded of the ordeal my family experienced with my mom’s cancer. I have recently recruited more volunteers to make and hand out cards; this gives them the opportunity to learn, as I have, just how much a simple gesture can mean to those at a difficult point in life—an idea that transcends a cancer diagnosis. I hope to further expand my project so that as many patients as possible experience the healing effect of my cards.
The “Compassionate Volunteer” harnessed her available resources in the oncology unit and utilized her creativity to establish a popular and supportive program amongst patients.
Available resources: president of Mustang EMS
Need of community: opportunities for hands-on medical experience
Innovative solution: ride-alongs with local fire department
After writing a proposal for the project, I received a $2,000 grant from the Engaged Learning Office to create a ride-along partnership with University Park Fire Department. Throughout the process, I collaborated with SMU’s Office of Legal Affairs and Office of Risk Management to determine the feasibility of the ride-along partnership. In collaborating with community leaders, I gained insight into the structure of Dallas’s emergency response network, BIOTEL, and learned about a physician’s potential role in fulfilling the diverse needs of the community.
When I came to SMU, I had difficulty finding opportunities to get hands-on experience in healthcare, so I created a program that would allow future students to do so. As president of Mustang EMS, I developed a ride-along partnership with University Park Fire Department, which offered pre-health students a chance to shadow EMTs on emergency calls city-wide. It was gratifying to set a precedent at my school and establish an opportunity that would provide valuable exposure to countless pre-meds down the line.
The “Networker” isolated a specific need amongst his peers and found a way to use his position within Mustang EMS to creatively satisfy that demand.
Available resources: board member for Partners in Wellness
Need of community: healthy outlet for hospital patients to express themselves
Innovative solution: facilitating art projects for individual patients
As a member of the first official board for Partners in Wellness, a student-led clinical organization, I worked closely with hospital administration on program development. After careful planning, I founded and integrated a clinical-based arts program, Art Heals, which eventually received official approval. The program aims to use art as a means of connecting patients and caregivers. Besides giving patients a chance to express themselves through art, it also provides a venue for pre-medical students to gain more exposure to the humanities, and vice versa, for art students to gain more exposure to the healthcare field.
When I first met Fernando, his eyes were downcast, his body devoid of energy.
Rather than just talking with the cancer patient--our usual protocol in Partners in Wellness--I provided art materials and collaborated with Fernando to produce a collage. He painted a picture of his journey, depicting the positive direction he was going in and his love for his family, all channeled through bright colors and cascading shapes. A smile emerged on his face as he described this journey to me, and slowly his family gave tearful smiles as well. He gave me a hug and whispered “thank you” in my ear.
The “Artist Founder” combined his passion for the arts with his board position to spearhead a creative program that benefits patients as well as pre-meds.
These capstone projects helped these three students secure their admission into medical school. We hope they can serve as useful models while you design your own project. You don’t have to be an artist, or an EMS president, or a greeting card aficionado. Try to embody Cal Newport’s principles so that you can develop the schedule and mindset that are most conducive for substantial projects. Once you’ve freed up your time and energy, you can focus on finding a problem in your community and solving it through innovation.
Good luck developing your capstone and pre-med identity! It’s guaranteed to reap great rewards during the application process.