How many clinical hours for medical school should you have? What activities count as clinical experience? Is it mandatory to have a certain amount of clinical experience? Many medical school applicants ask these questions as they focus on building up their extracurriculars for medical school. Most medical school admissions committees look for clinical experience in your medical school resume, as an indicator of your passion and commitment to the field of medicine. That’s why it’s important to get at least some amount of early exposure in a clinical setting to give your application a robust chance of success.

In this blog, we’ll help you understand how many hours of clinical experience you need for medical school, why clinical experience is important, and what counts as clinical experience. We’ll also provide tips on how to find clinical experience opportunities.


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How Many Clinical Hours for Medical School Do I Need?

Clinical experience is one of the most important extracurriculars for medical school, especially if you’re applying to medical schools in the US, which expect real-world clinical experience from their applicants. As clinical experience primarily involves patient interactions in a clinical setting, it helps students get a better idea of what it’s actually like to be a doctor before officially stepping into medical school.

A few schools even recommend that all applicants complete a specific number of clinical hours before applying. While such medical school requirements might not be strict, you should aim to meet them if you want a competitive application.

Keep in mind that there is no specific number of clinical hours for medical school that will be universally applicable to all programs. We recommend that you check the respective admissions websites of your chosen schools to confirm their admissions requirements and recommendations. Generally speaking, having at least 100-150 hours of clinical experience, ideally completed in a consistent schedule over a few months, is considered competitive.

It’s not enough to simply tick off these hours as an item on your medical school checklist. You must make sure you commit consistent, dedicated time for clinical hours in a single setting. Avoid jumping from one experience to another and instead, focus on gaining considerable, meaningful experience in one place. As we’ll discuss later in this blog, quality is more important than quantity. Many schools may not ask for a specific number of clinical hours but will still recommend that students gain “quality” clinical experience before applying. Rather than completing one hour per week over 2 months in many different clinical settings, it’s better to complete 3-4 hours per week (at least) over 8 to 10 months at the same place.

Check out some ways you can gain clinical experience:

What Counts as Clinical Experience?

As you’re figuring out which medical school extracurriculars to focus on, it’s important to understand the different types of experiences and the role each of them plays in your medical school application. You don’t want to end up with noticeable gaps in your medical school CV simply because you didn’t understand the requirements. Here are some important differentiators to help you figure out what counts as clinical experience.

Admin experience is not clinical experience

Many positions that medical school applicants take up in a clinical environment involve administrative tasks such as filing paperwork, completing forms, organizing data, etc. For example, medical assistant, nursing assistant, office administrator, receptionist, and other such roles largely involve administrative duties. While this can count towards your general medical school extracurricular requirements, it won’t count as “clinical experience” unless you have additional duties that give you actual patient interactions and clinical exposure.

Clinical experience vs shadowing experience

It’s also important to remember the difference between clinical and shadowing experience. These two experiences are often easily confused since they both take place in a clinical setting and expose you to the day-to-day life of medical professionals. However, shadowing is a passive experience that involves following a physician during their daily rotations and consultations to get a better understanding of the regular duties of a doctor. During a shadowing stint, you do not get the chance to practice your own skills or gain any direct experience. Instead, it is an exercise in passive observation of a clinical practice. On the other hand, in clinical experience, along with exposure to the world of medicine, you also get the chance for direct patient interactions and participation in the daily activities of a medical team. Unlike shadowing, your clinical experience doesn’t necessarily have to be completed with a physician – it could be completed in a blood bank, hospice or nursing home, emergency response center, and other such medical institutions.

Both shadowing and clinical experiences have their own benefits and can help you further your understanding of what being a doctor involves. Make sure you figure out how many shadowing hours for medical school you need along with your clinical experience requirements to make your application as competitive as possible.

Different Types of Clinical Experiences

Why is Clinical Experience Important?

With so many rigorous academic and extracurricular prerequisites for medical school to consider, it can be easy to get caught up in the numbers and forget why you’re completing each requirement. For example, clinical experience is not just about completing some obligatory requirement to list in your AMCAS Work and Activities section. It’s so much more than that! Firstly, it indicates your interest in the field of medicine and helps you back up your medical school dreams and goals with actual, lived experiences. Admissions committees want to know that your passion for medicine isn’t just theoretical, and you’ve seriously thought about the requirements of the profession and your own suitability for it. For example, as a future physician, you must have first-hand experience of patient interaction. This will be a crucial aspect of your life as a doctor, and you must make sure you enjoy this work and are well-suited for it. Furthermore, clinical experiences help you develop the skills you need for the medical profession, and which are highly regarded by admissions committees. For example, interacting with patients can help you cultivate empathy and compassion. Working in a high-pressure clinical environment can help you hone your ability to stay calm and make quick decisions under duress.

Meaningful clinical experiences also help to make your application more generally robust. For example, when you’re writing your medical school personal statement or medical school secondary essays, clinical experiences can help you clearly communicate, with examples, why you want to be a doctor. Admissions committees are always more impressed if you can show rather than tell i.e., when you can provide proof of your claims via your lived experiences. If you’re able to put in a stellar performance during your clinical hours, you could also gain an impressive medical school letter of recommendation from your supervisor. In fact, a few medical schools even ask for at least one letter from a supervisor in a clinical setting.

At the same time, remember that if you have limited clinical experience, it’s not the end of the world. There are many medical schools that don’t have any specific requirements surrounding clinical experience and accept students with a variety of experiences, as long as they can prove that they have the qualities to be a good doctor. If your application is strong in other areas, such as your academic performance and MCAT score, and you have meaningful experience of other kinds (such as volunteering or shadowing hours), then you still have a competitive chance of acceptance. You just need to ensure that your application components such as your personal statement, essays, and activity descriptions effectively highlight your strengths and suitability for medical school. You can also address your limited clinical experience in your personal statement and medical school secondary essays. In this case, make sure you’re not just making excuses that will serve to further weaken your application, but rather focus on highlighting how, despite your limited experiences, you’re still a strong candidate and have a demonstrated passion for medicine.

If there were extenuating circumstances related to your background, family, or health that led to your lack of clinical experiences, you can expand on them in your diversity secondary essay or accommodations essays. 

How to Get Clinical Experience

The guidelines below will help you not only find a suitable clinical experience but also make the most of it.

Research, Analyze, and Make a Balanced Choice

Getting clinical experience isn’t like signing up for any random extracurricular. It’s not as easy as that! You’ll need to do a fair bit of research and preparation to find the right opportunity for you and to make sure you land the role. Remember, one of the key purposes of clinical hours is to further your understanding of the medical profession, develop key patient interaction skills, and explore your continued commitment to becoming a physician. That’s why you need to ensure that you take up opportunities that trigger your natural curiosity and engage your interest, as opposed to simply doing what you think is expected of you. At the same time, you must be strategic about selecting the right opportunities. There’s no point applying to several jobs that you may find very interesting but that you simply aren’t qualified for and hence have little chance of actually getting. Similarly, make sure you have the hours available in your schedule to give the opportunity your best shot. If you’re going to frequently miss shifts and put in a poor performance due to a hectic schedule, then you won’t be able to gain the meaningful experiences and skills that you’re supposed to during your clinical hours.

Also, if you already know the medical schools you’re applying to and/or have a broad interest in a specific medical school specialty, you can try and select a clinical experience that aligns with these interests. For example, consider if you’re more interested in DO vs MD degree and try and get clinical experience with a doctor of a similar educational background as your interest. In fact, many of the best osteopathic med schools require some kind of clinical or shadowing experience in an osteopathic clinical setting from their applicants. They expect applicants to provide examples of their experience working with osteopathic medical tenets to demonstrate their commitment to the philosophy of osteopathy.

If you're struggling to decide what type of medical specialty you would like to pursue, this video can help!

Explore Your Options

As you find out what kind of clinical opportunities you should be getting based on your interest and skill sets, make sure you explore all the logistically available options vis a vis the different types of clinical experiences. These are some of the most popular options to gain clinical experience:

Note that some of these clinical opportunities require pre-existing qualifications, experiences, and certifications. It might be worth investing some time in gaining these qualifications, for instance, beginner level EMTs only need to be trained for 1 to 4 months before they can begin working. On the other hand, nursing roles require the completion of a nursing degree which represents a significant investment of time and effort, not to mention money. That might not be a viable option for the typical undergrad student.

Avenues to Clinical Experience

Once you’ve identified the kind of opportunities you want to explore, you’ll have to figure out a convenient way to access them. For undergrad students, the easiest opportunities are volunteer experiences in clinical setting. You can apply to volunteer in hospitals and clinics, as well as long-term care and retirement homes. As we mentioned earlier, make sure you emphasize active clinical duties and patient interactions in your search, or find a way to combine your admin duties with clinical duties. Most medical centers have many volunteer opportunities available throughout the year and you can check their websites or go in person to ask about what’s currently available.

Another avenue you can explore are the clinical experience tie-ups between medical centers and schools, universities, or programs. Check your school website and ask your faculty members to find out what exclusive opportunities your school offers for its students to gain clinical experience. Many medical centers reserve certain internship or assistant-ship opportunities for students from specific affiliated or nearby schools.

Make sure you research the background and employees of the hospital or clinical setting you’re applying to. Sometimes, you may find an alumni connection who could help you get a lucrative or prestigious clinical job. Similarly, if you have any family or friends working in clinical settings, ask them if they need any assistance with their duties.

Finally, if you’re looking for paid work experience, check out job portals as well as the website of clinical centers to see their requirements and what you might be suitable for. Though there aren’t a lot of paid clinical opportunities for students without any qualifications, there are a few roles, such as internships, caretakers, etc. that could be suitable for you.

Quality Over Quantity

As you’re completing your clinical hours for medical school, focus on making the most of your time by gaining clinical skills and useful experience. Try to cultivate opportunities for regular patient interactions and work on improving your bedside manner, as well as your ability to think quickly under pressure. Many clinical settings are high-stress, high-pressure environments, which might trigger extreme emotional reactions in you. Make sure you work towards maintaining your emotional stability and inner calm in these tough situations. Throughout the process, be committed, disciplined, and curious, and engage with the work and the environment. Though you may find it challenging, we recommend sticking with 1 or 2 key clinical experiences that show your commitment and dedication, rather than having several short-term stints where you didn’t get a chance to grow or learn critical skills.

We also recommend keeping a journal or maintain some notes where you record your everyday clinical experiences and reflect on how they shape your passion for medicine, what skills you think you’re gaining, which qualities you’re honing, obstacles you’re facing, and so on. Noting down these details as they happen will make it easier for you to recall them as you write your personal statement, activity descriptions, and secondary essays, which could happen many months or even years down the line. In your application, you should clearly demonstrate, via your reflection on clinical experiences, that you are passionate about medicine, and have the skills and qualities to be a doctor.

FAQs

1. How many hours of clinical hours for medical school do I need?

There’s no universally applicable set of clinical hours that will get you into medical school. However, generally speaking, about 100 to 150 hours of meaningful clinical experience completed in a consistent schedule over a few months can give your application a competitive edge. Make sure you check the individual requirements on the admissions websites of the schools you’re applying to. Some may ask for a minimum required number of clinical hours or they may recommend you complete a certain number of clinical hours.

2. What is the difference between shadowing and clinical experience?

Shadowing is a passive activity, that involves observation of clinical practice. Clinical experience involves active participation on your part, which typically includes patient care, patient interactions such as drawing blood or preparing them for procedures, and other active participation as part of a clinical team. Shadowing allows you to learn about the typical schedule, demands, and work of a practicing physician, while clinical experience allows you to hone your own clinical skills and develop the essential qualities required in a future physician. Both can allow you to explore your interest in medicine and clarify your reasons for becoming a doctor.

3. Does an administrative job in a clinical setting count as clinical experience?

No, an administrative job in a clinical setting does not count towards clinical experience unless it also involves active clinical duties such as direct patient care and interactions.

4. Can a research experience count towards clinical hours?

Research experience only counts as clinical hours if it involves research tasks completed in a clinical setting with patient interactions such as monitoring blood pressure, taking blood samples, and so on.

5. Why are clinical hours so important for medical school?

Clinical hours give you the opportunity to explore your interest in medicine and confirm if you actually have the commitment, passion, and skills to become a successful physician. Medicine is a highly challenging profession and not everyone can handle the stress, emotional drain, and daily rigors of practicing medicine. Clinical experience exposes you to these requirements and helps you determine if you have the potential to thrive here. Moreover, meaningful experiences in a clinical setting are essential to building your “why I want to be a doctor” narrative for your personal statement, essays, and interviews. Admissions committees want to hear about how your real-world experiences helped you grow and set you on the path to medical school.

6. What are the different types of clinical experience?

You can get paid or unpaid clinical experience. Generally, undergrad students have volunteer clinical experience since these opportunities don’t really need any specific qualifications to obtain and have fewer hours commitment which suits their schedules. Some students chose to take a gap year to enhance their resume and work in a full-time clinical job. Non-traditional applicants from fields related to medicine such as nursing often have thousands of hours of clinical experience which is their biggest strength in the application process.

7. How to get clinical experience?

To get clinical experience, you’ll have to research all the available opportunities, find the most convenient avenues to clinical experience near you, and choose the option that best suits your long-term needs and immediate requirements. You can apply for volunteering opportunities in clinical centers such as hospitals, as well as nursing homes, hospice settings, mental health treatment facilities, blood banks, and so on. Make sure you tap into all the available resources through your university or your alumni networks. Focus on quality over quantity – it’s better to have fewer, more meaningful or prestigious experiences as opposed to many short-term stints.

8. What can I do if I have limited clinical experience?

If you have limited clinical experience, first of all, don’t worry, it’s not the end of your medical dreams. If your application is strong in other areas, such as many hours committed towards other medical school extracurriculars like shadowing or research, a good GPA, a great MCAT score, amazing letters of recommendation, and so on, then you can still get an acceptance. Moreover, you can choose to address your lack of clinical experience and emphasize your other strengths and what makes you a good candidate in your personal statement and secondary essays.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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