Part of the long list of requirements to get into medical school is having clinical experience. But how many hours of clinical experience should you have for medical school?
That’s a question lots of premed students ask. Medical School is competitive and you don’t want to lose your chances of getting in because you didn’t “check a box” on the application.
The answer, however, is not simple. Right off the bat, I’m going to tell you that there really is no magic number. But it is important that you understand why clinical experience is important and how it will improve your med school application. Then you can get the idea of how many hours you need to give you that edge.
What is Considered Clinical Experience?
Simply put, clinical experience is any experience where you are interacting with patients. Really this covers a wide range of activities and doesn’t necessarily have to be in a hospital or clinic environment. For example, hospice care. You could be spending time with patients at their house.
When asking the question of what is considered clinical experience you should also be thinking about why medical schools want to see clinical experience. What are the kinds of questions a medical school review board might ask when reviewing your application?
Are you somebody that is developing a good bedside manner?
Are you someone that enjoys caring for the sick or elderly?
Do you have a passion for healthcare?
You are entering the field of medicine because you want to make it your life’s mission to care for others. Demonstrate that in your application with your clinical experience.
Once again, when considering clinical experience, the general rule of thumb is that there must be some sort of interaction with patients. Valuable clinical experience is an experience that demonstrates you are someone that is passionate about improving the overall experience for a patient.
So How Many Hours Clinical Experience Do I Really Need for Medical School?
Like I mentioned in the introduction, there is no magic number. Don’t strive to hit a certain amount of hours. If you have the idea that there is a certain amount of clinical hours that makes you competitive, get it out of your head. There are great applicants with only 100 hours and terrible applicants with 3000 hours.
The key to determining how many hours of clinical experience you need for medical school is to understand that you need consistency, balance, and quality hours.
First consistency. Medical schools want to know that you are serious about getting exposed to the medical field and that it is truly the right career path for you.
You can’t demonstrate that you really tried to immerse yourself in the community if it looks like you were just trying to check off a requirement for medical school.
One summer working at a clinic for 200 hours is not going to cut it. Sure you could get in based on other amazing qualifications, but this lack of consistency will hold you back.
Ideally, you want to show medical schools that every year you were determined to gain experience. You didn’t stop after you felt that you had enough hours.
And of course, there are other experiences beyond clinical experience that you could be doing. Shadowing, non-clinical volunteering, research, etc. And these take up your time as well.
The point is that you want to demonstrate that you are consistently eager to gain more experience up until your entrance into medical school and beyond. If you work as a scribe for a year then don’t do anything for the next 2 years, this will be somewhat of a red flag.
Some students work paid clinical jobs and end up having thousands of clinical hours but are lacking in other sections. Such as non-clinical volunteering.
This can end up hurting you. Yes, it’s good to have a lot of clinical hours showing medical schools you really care about medicine, but they also want to see someone who cares about community service, research, and being a leader.
Medical schools look at the whole picture.
Therefore you want to have balanced in your clinical experience. You should be consistently seeking out new opportunities to broaden your experience and knowledge of the medical field.
You want to make sure you participate in quality clinical experiences. Ultimately, a clinical experience should be something that enriches your medical school application.
You want to be able to show how your experiences impacted your view on medicine and how they motivate you to pursue this career path. Think about each experience as something you can write about in one of the many medical school essays.
Your clinical experiences as a premed shouldn’t only be something you do to add fluff to your resume. You should actually be trying to get something out of it. Trust me, medical school admissions committees can see if you are just trying to pad your application. If you are honestly trying to gain exposure to medicine for the sake of learning more about it, then this will translate well into your application.
You Want to Hold At Least One Position for 6 or More Months
Medical schools want to see that you can be committed to something for a long period of time. You don’t want to only be doing weekend gigs here and there sporadically.
Show schools that you can commit to an experience for a longer period of time.
Does Paid Clinical Experience Count?
Yes. Paid clinical experiences count.
Of course, you will want to show that you are interested in volunteering without compensation, Medical Schools understand that you have to pay the bills, so paid clinical experiences are ideal.
It still shows you are determined. Finding a job is relatively easy. But finding a paid clinical position that you actually contribute to can be a challenge.
Take scribing for an example. This is a job that generally doesn’t pay well and has a large learning curve that stresses many students out. Even though you are paid, this is a very valuable clinical experience for this reason alone. It shows you can overcome challenges.
Can you Count Shadowing as Clinical Experience?
No, you shouldn’t count shadowing hours as clinical experience hours. Shadowing is observing a doctor treat a patient, clinical experience involves you working with patients. Very different.
Examples of Clinical Experience
There are so many different kinds of clinical experience out there. Here are some examples:
- Medical Interpreter
- Hospice worker/volunteer
- Certified Nursing Assistant
- Medical Assistant
- Medical Technician
Get a Physician Letter of Recommendation Early
This is something I wish I did. It is easy to get a letter of recommendation from a teacher as long as you are getting good grades or working hard to improve.
Getting a letter from an actual physician… not so easy.
And unfortunately, it is required by medical schools. Especially if you are applying to D.O. schools as well. They will want to see a letter of recommendation from a D.O.
As soon as you start doing any kind of clinical experience working alongside doctors, start thinking about how you are going to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Doctors are busy people and may take a long time to fulfill this kind of request. If you keep delaying, you will find yourself in a last-minute panic very quickly. You might need a letter in less than a month but the doctor you are receiving it from could take much longer!
Get your letter of recommendation out of the way early! This will relieve so much stress.
Clinical experience is very important for medical school. However, more clinical experience doesn’t necessarily equal a better application.
Instead of asking how many hours of clinical experience you need to be a competitive applicant for medical school, you should probably ask yourself what should you gain from doing a clinical experience.
The goal is not to scribe, become an EMT, or volunteer at a hospital because you want to “build hours” but rather so that you can get closer to the medical field and really understand what it is like. One day you want to make a living in the field of medicine therefore you want to make sure it is something you are truly passionate about.
This is why medical schools want to see clinical experience, shadowing, and volunteering in the extracurriculars section of your application.
They want to see that you know what you are getting yourself into and that you are committed to medicine. And of course, they want to see that you enjoy helping others.
So, my advice to you is this. Start reaching out to clinical opportunities early on. Find something that you believe you can gain a lot from. Something interesting. Don’t build clinical experience hours just for the sake of building hours. Take notes throughout the process so that you can remember all the valuable experiences you had when it’s time to write your medical school essays. Make every clinical experience count so that you can show to medical schools that each experience has contributed to your desire to become a physician.
Have any questions? Advice? Feel free to comment below!
Further Reading: How Many Hours of Shadowing is Required for Medical School?