How to Get Clinical Experience for Medical School Admissions

Doctor and residents examining patient in hospital

Caiaimage / Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

In medical school admissions, clinical experience refers to any employment or volunteer experience in the medical field. It is an invaluable opportunity to experience the life of a medical professional first-hand. Many future medical students spend the year between their undergraduate graduation and their first year of medical school, also known as a glide year, obtaining clinical experience. Both volunteering and employment in the medical field can serve as clinical experience. Most medical schools require or strongly recommend clinical experience, so it’s important to check the requirements of each school to which you intend to apply.

When medical schools review applications, they are looking for applicants who demonstrate an eagerness to seek learning opportunities and an awareness of the skills gained through these experiences. Some programs prefer to see a variety of clinical experiences, while others are most interested in an applicant’s participation in volunteer activities. While the experiences may vary, make sure that you demonstrate a commitment to meaningful clinical experience before you apply to medical school. 

Hospital/Clinic Volunteer  

The first choice for clinical experience for many pre-med students is in a hospital or clinic setting. The opportunity to observe numerous medical conditions, professionals in action and the daily operation of a medical facility draws many applicants to seek out this experience. This is also why students looking to volunteer in a hospital or major clinic need to start the process early. Each hospital or medical center will have its own volunteer application process and training requirements.

Shadowing a Physician 

Shadowing a physician, particularly one in an area of medicine that is of interest to you, can be a great learning opportunity. You’ll be able to experience the pace of a medical professional’s typical workday and observe how the physician interacts with patients. Another benefit of shadowing a doctor is the chance to look at the medical field from the patient’s point of view. From a medical school application perspective, one of the most important takeaways from this experience is observations you make about patients and their care.

Look into shadowing opportunities through your undergraduate institution or alumni association. They may have lists of physicians in the local community or those who graduated from your university who are interested in working with future medical school students.

Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) 

Serving as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) offers a wide breadth of medical experience. Specific requirements to become a volunteer EMT vary, but to qualify you’ll need to take a course and pass a certification exam. While the work of an EMT differs from that of a physician, the experience of interacting directly with patients experiencing a range of medical issues is extremely valuable to future doctors. The challenges of this work include the time required to become certified as well as the difficulties of finding an opportunity that fits within your schedule. Most EMT positions are found with ambulance services, hospitals, and fire departments.

Medical Scribe

A medical scribe is an essential part of the medical record process. In a doctor’s office, the scribe may take down important patient information during the interview, and in an emergency room, the scribe writes up the symptoms of each patient in the waiting area. Medical scribes are trained to use the EMR (electronic medical records) for the particular hospital or facility at which they are employed. Working as a medical scribe is excellent preparation for medical school and for work as a physician as scribes learn to thoroughly document all important patient information. Medical scribes are paid for their work, and opportunities can be found in hospitals, medical practices, and clinics.

Other Volunteer Experiences 

As you consider where to find opportunities for clinical experience, look beyond the most obvious choices. Volunteer experiences that are beneficial to future doctors include spending time with elderly patients at retirement homes or with young children at schools for students with disabilities. You may also find a clinical research study in an area of interest where you can engage with patients and learn about cutting edge advances in medicine. 

No matter which type of experience you choose, clinical experience is important because it demonstrates that you know what is involved in the medical profession and that you are entering medical school with an awareness of what it means to be a doctor.