discoveries magazine

Road Test

Pre-Healthcare Volunteer Program puts curious students in the driver’s seat as they explore a potential medical career.

Sasha Gorelik

The Cedars-Sinai Pre-Healthcare Volunteer Program gave undergrad Sasha Gorelik the chance to explore a potential career in medicine before committing to one. Photo: Cameron Davidson

The road to becoming a doctor is long. After earning an undergraduate degree, an additional seven to 15 years of education and training ensue. It’s grueling, with demanding coursework, arduous hours, and scant sleep. And it’s expensive, with medical school tuition averaging around $60,000 per year. Before agreeing to such a herculean commitment, it would be nice to take the medical profession out for a career test-drive.

That’s precisely what motivated Sasha Gorelik to enroll in the Cedars-Sinai Pre-Healthcare Volunteer Program, which offers young people an opportunity to kick the doctoring tires. The 20-year-old California native has the MD in her DNA. Both of her grandmothers were practicing physicians in Kazakhstan, and her mother graduated from medical school there but elected not to practice after immigrating to America.

“There was pressure for me to follow suit, but I needed to discover for myself if medicine is truly a passion of mine and a field I wanted to pursue,” explains Gorelik, who will graduate from Johns Hopkins University in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in medicine, science, and the humanities.

“I’ve always loved the hustle and bustle of a hospital—it seems like such a stimulating environment,” Gorelik adds.

Her interest in caring for children also drew her toward medicine. “I really love kids, and am particularly passionate about those with special needs,” she says. Pursuing pediatrics is a possibility.

Gorelik, the standout middle blocker on Johns Hopkins’ varsity women’s volleyball team, still wasn’t sure whether she could envision herself working in a hospital for the long term. So when she heard about the Pre-Healthcare Volunteer Program, she jumped at the opportunity.

Established in summer 2016, the program is designed for undergraduate and postbaccalaureate students who are considering becoming physicians. For 10 weeks each spring, summer, and fall, 20 to 25 participants are matched with Cedars-Sinai physician mentors. By shadowing their mentors in a host of healthcare settings—from operating rooms to grand rounds—volunteers walk away with a 360-degree view of a doctor’s day-to-day life.

“At the end of a session, most students are even more committed to becoming a physician, but if someone decides they don’t want to pursue that career, we consider that a successful outcome, too,” says Casey McGuire, director of Volunteer Services at Cedars-Sinai.

Mentor matches are made by surgical oncologist Jason Cohen, MD, who runs the program as its medical advisor. “We really want to make sure these young people know what they’re getting themselves into,” he says.

Hearing from outside speakers is an important program component. Gorelik gleaned valuable insights from weekly gatherings at which doctors shared their career journeys.

“One of the speakers actually had shadowed Dr. Cohen several years ago and now he’s a cardiologist,” Gorelik says. “His path to becoming a physician wasn’t traditional or linear, and he stressed that you can carve out your own journey.”

The program affirmed that Gorelik’s career journey will culminate with the addition of MD after her name. She credits her mentors, a three-person team from the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, for that decision.

“What impressed me most about my mentors was the relationships they built with their patients, how much they truly cared about them, and how committed they were to providing the best care possible,” she says. “That’s what I want to do. That’s why I want to be a doctor.”

For more information about the Pre-Healthcare Volunteer Program, email or call 310-423-8044.