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 premeds ask these questions as they focus on building up their extracurriculars for medical school. Most medical schools require or recommend at least some clinical experience. 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? What Counts as Clinical Experience? How to Get Clinical Hours for Medical School FAQs

How Many Clinical Hours for Medical School Do I Need?

Generally speaking, at least 100-150 hours of clinical experience is considered competitive.

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.

“Clinical experience is a bonus because most schools like to know if a candidate knows what they are signing up for. Medicine is a long and arduous journey, so commitment is key. In this sense, any clinical experience is an asset.” – Dr. Neel Mistry, MD


 "Clinical exposure is quite helpful to explore the various healthcare roles and to ensure that medicine is truly the profession you want. Being in a clinical setting allows you to witness the roles, hours, and responsibilities, and even consider other health related roles." -- Dr. Jacquelyn Paquet, MD


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.

Our admissions expert, Dr. Monica Taneja, MD, a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, says in her experience, clinical opportunities are one of the most important parts of your application.

“[My clinical experiences] provided a lot of the talking points for my application. It definitely allowed me to validate medicine as well as a certain area of medicine which I talked a lot about in my application. Clinical experience is probably the #2 most important thing to medical schools following GPA/MCAT. I was told that I needed to have an experience where I was actively caring for a patient and responsible in part for their treatment ... A big piece of clinical experience is validation that medicine is the right path for you, so if you haven't been involved in patient care it's hard to justify wanting to go down this path to medical schools." – Dr. Monica Taneja, MD

 

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.

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.

“Find opportunities that place you in a setting that you’re excited about! I had friends work in hospitals, outpatient offices, and mobile vans. I’d also find a place where you have some minor autonomy to talk with patients 1:1 as this is what being a physician is all about. I’d also say longevity goes a long way, so if you are able to commit to something for at least 1 year, even if you are only working a few hours per week, it’ll show your passion for the clinical work.” – Dr. Monica Taneja, MD

 

Don't forget to prepare to talk about your clinical experiences in your med school interviews!

What Counts as Clinical Experience?

To fulfill your clinical hours for medical school, it’s important to understand the different types of clinical experiences and the role each of them plays in your medical school application.

So, what counts as clinical experience? Clinical experience must have a patient care role or involve you working directly with patients in a healthcare setting. There are a myriad of premed jobs and responsibilities in many health-related settings you can perform as a premed to gain these experiences.

“I had over 250 clinical experience hours before applying to medical school. This was through our local free clinic at university, shadowing at a private clinic, interning at local clinics, and interning in the emergency room … I believe clinical experiences are a necessity for medical school applicants.” Dr. Tony Huynh, DO


 "I had 300 hours of direct clinical experience and another 100 hours of shadowing. My main clinical experience was working as a patient triage volunteer at a free clinic. My job was to do the initial intake of chief complaint, basic vitals, And any initial screening like blood sugar or urine analysis." -- Dr. Monica Taneja, MD


Why is Clinical Experience Important?

Clinical experience is not just about completing requirements. 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 you’ve seriously thought about the requirements of the profession and your own suitability for it.

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.

“The clinical experiences are not really meant to teach the intricacies of medicine to premed applicants. It is more of an opportunity to learn about the role clinicians have and the workflow of certain areas of medicine.” – Dr. Tony Huynh, DO

 

“These experiences helped solidify my passion for medicine and why I wanted to become a doctor. I was able to draw on these experiences during my medical school application and the interview process.” – Dr. Neel Mistry, MD

 

If you’re able to put in a stellar performance during your clinical hours for medical school, 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.

“[My clinical experiences] did provide a couple perks, especially regarding letter of references … many programs also request letters from physicians and all my letters came from these clinical experiences.” – Dr. Tony Huynh, DO


How to Make the Most of Your Clinical Hours for Medical School

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.

“Premeds can get the most out of their clinical experiences by being present and attentive. No one expects the students to act as a clinician in their limited role. But by participating wholeheartedly, focusing on the task at hand, and helping where they can help, they can become a very important team member.” – Dr. Tony Huynh, DO

 

“Doing the activity because you genuinely enjoy it, as opposed to any external motive is key to getting the most out of your clinical experience. You will be surprised by what you get in return if you go in with the right intentions and expect to gain nothing other than providing genuine service to patients.” – Dr. Neel Mistry, MD

 

Different Types of Clinical Experiences

What Doesn’t Count as Clinical Experience for Medical School?

How to Get Clinical Hours for Medical School

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

1. Research and Apply Strategically

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.

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.

2. 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 available options. These are some of the most popular premed jobs 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.

3. Reach Out to Medical Centers

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.

“My university had job listings for various healthcare internships that I applied for. I also searched up local providers in my area and cold-emailed and cold-called them to ask about any volunteer opportunities that may have been available.” – Dr. Tony Huynh, DO

 

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. 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 that could be suitable for you.

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, about 100 to 150 hours of meaningful clinical experience is enough.

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 or direct patient interactions.

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

No, an administrative job in a clinical setting does not count 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 direct patient care.

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

Clinical hours give you the opportunity to explore your interest in medicine and confirm you have the commitment, passion, and skills to become a successful physician. 

6. What are the different types of clinical experience?

You can get paid experience through a premed job or unpaid clinical experience through volunteer work.

7. How to get clinical experience?

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.

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

You can choose to take a gap year and gain clinical experience or offset this weakness in your application by addressing your lack of clinical experience and emphasize your other strengths.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting


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1 Comments

Eileen Huang

Hi, I am looking to apply for master in physical therapy (PT), and I want to ask if it is necessary for work in a hospital? I am looking at emergency department volunteer in addition to PT assistant volunteering (PT volunteering in a long-term care, which I am going to start soon for 2 hours each week). I want to try a fast-paced environment (ER environment), but at the same time I think I am the kind of person who prefer a PT setting over a fast paced ER setting; will the admission committee think I am not suited for the PT profession?

Reply

BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Eileen! Any clinical experience will be impressive! You do not need to have clinical experience in the exact specialty you plan to pursue.

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