The Ultimate Guide to Medical School Extracurriculars: Clinical Experience

FIND OUT WHAT’S IMPORTANT FOR MEDICAL SCHOOL APPLICATIONS, HOW TO STAND OUT TO ADMISSIONS COMMITTEES, AND WHAT YOU ACTUALLY NEED TO DO TO BE COMPETITIVE

In this post of our medical school extracurricular guide we’re going to talk clinical experience.  If you haven’t already, check out the initial post for a broad overview of extracurricular activities and general advice for how to make any experience standout.

Clinical experience is defined as direct interaction with patients with involvement in their care or support.

WHY IS CLINICAL EXPERIENCE IMPORTANT TO MEDICAL SCHOOLS?

This one is easy:  patient care is what you’re signing yourself up for.  Medical schools want to feel confident that any student they admit understands what life in medicine entails.  Medicine is a time-intensive and expensive commitment that involves a lot of investment on the part of medical educators.  As a result, they look for concrete evidence that you know and enjoy what it is like to work with ill patients.  More importantly, you should really make sure becoming a physician is the right fit.  Without adequate clinical exposure, you may be setting yourself up to realize down the line you only liked the idea of becoming a physician.  

Confirming your interest in clinical medicine is not the only reason direct patient exposure is a requirement for medical school admissions.  Medical schools look for people-oriented, empathetic applicants.  Direct patient care provides an opportunity for applicants to highlight those skills to admissions committees while becoming comfortable working with sick patients.  

Note, direct patient exposure is different than physician shadowing.  Patient exposure is actual interaction with patients while physician shadowing is observing a physician as they care for patients.  

HOW MUCH CLINICAL EXPERIENCE DO I NEED?

The University of Utah School of Medicine has long provided recommendations for prospective applicants to better understand what medical schools are looking for in extracurriculars.  They recommend a minimum of 32 hours and at least 48 hours to be considered competitive.  We typically recommend much more, with at least 100-150 hours of direct clinical exposure.  Thinking about it longitudinally, that really isn’t that much time.  If you volunteered 2 hours a week every week for only 1 year, you’d be at over 100 hours.  Becoming comfortable in a clinical setting is critical to understanding what patient care is actually like, confirming medicine is the right fit, and demonstrating you have an understanding of the path ahead to admissions committees.

EXAMPLES OF CLINICAL EXPERIENCE

Whatever you choose to do, you need to be interacting with patients directly.  What direct clinical experience is not: shadowing, administrative duties, housecleaning duties, or any other indirect patient contact role.  The opportunities for clinical experience can often be difficult to come by for premedical students and may require application processes themselves.  Don’t let that deter you as valuable clinical exposure can be a great opportunity for personal growth.  

Below is a non-exhaustive list of clinical experience with direct patient contact:

  • Emergency medical technician (EMT)
  • Emergency department volunteer
  • Hospital or clinic scribe
  • Certified nursing assistant (CNA)
  • Hospice volunteer
  • Patient advocate

Ready to master the rest of the major extracurricular activities? Check out the remainder of our extracurricular guide posts about service, leadership, research, and shadowing.  If you find yourself needing any help, our advisors love working with students to help them make the most of their clinical experiences.