How to Gain Clinical Experience Before Applying to Medical School

Dreaming of becoming a doctor? Before you don that white coat and start saving lives, there’s a crucial step you can’t afford to miss: gaining clinical experience. Not only is it a key requirement for medical school applications, but it also gives you a taste of what life as a physician is really like. In this article, we’ll explore various ways to gain valuable clinical experience that will make your medical school application stand out.

What Counts As Clinical Experience For Medical School?

Clinical experience involves any work or activity in a healthcare setting where you interact with patients. This can include volunteering at hospitals, shadowing doctors, working as a medical scribe, or even participating in medical research. The goal is to get firsthand exposure to the medical field, understand patient care, and see the healthcare system in action.

Medical schools look for candidates who are not only academically capable but also have a clear understanding of the medical profession. Clinical experience demonstrates your commitment to the field, provides practical insights, and helps you build essential skills like empathy, communication, and teamwork. It also allows you to confirm your passion for medicine before investing time and money into medical school.

Volunteer at Hospitals and Clinics

Volunteering at hospitals and clinics is a fantastic way to gain clinical experience. It allows you to interact with patients, understand their needs, and see how healthcare professionals work together to provide care. Additionally, volunteering shows your dedication to service and can lead to valuable networking opportunities with healthcare providers.

To find volunteer opportunities, start by reaching out to local hospitals, clinics, and healthcare organizations. Many have volunteer programs specifically designed for pre-med students. You can also use online platforms and community boards to search for opportunities. Don’t hesitate to ask your school’s pre-med advisor for recommendations as well.

Shadow Physicians

Shadowing involves following a physician through their daily routine to observe their interactions with patients and healthcare teams. It’s a unique opportunity to see the realities of medical practice, from diagnosing illnesses to performing procedures and handling the emotional aspects of patient care.

To arrange shadowing experiences, start by contacting doctors in your area. You can reach out to family doctors, specialists, or use your network to find physicians willing to let you shadow them. Be professional in your approach, explaining your interest in medicine and your desire to learn more about the field.

Make the Most of Shadowing

While shadowing, always be respectful and professional. Dress appropriately, arrive on time, and follow all confidentiality rules. Take notes on what you observe and ask thoughtful questions when appropriate. This will not only enhance your learning experience but also leave a positive impression on the physician you’re shadowing.

After each shadowing session, take some time to reflect on what you learned. Consider how the experience has influenced your understanding of the medical field and your desire to become a physician. Reflecting on these experiences will be invaluable when writing your personal statement for medical school applications.

Work as a Medical Scribe

A medical scribe works alongside doctors, documenting patient encounters in real-time. This role gives you a front-row seat to the diagnostic process and medical decision-making, enhancing your understanding of clinical workflows and patient care.

To become a medical scribe, look for job openings at hospitals, clinics, or medical scribe companies. These positions often require some training, which you’ll receive on the job. Working as a scribe is a paid position, making it a great way to gain experience while earning some money.

Become a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)

Certified Nursing Assistants (CNAs) provide basic care to patients, assisting with activities like bathing, dressing, and eating. CNA programs are typically short, lasting a few months, and include both classroom instruction and clinical practice.

Working as a CNA offers hands-on patient care experience. It helps you develop essential skills, such as patient communication, empathy, and basic medical procedures. This experience is highly valued by medical schools and can significantly strengthen your application.

Real-World Experience as a CNA

As a CNA, you’ll work directly with patients, providing essential care and support. This includes monitoring vital signs, helping with mobility, and ensuring patients’ comfort. The role is demanding but incredibly rewarding, offering a deep insight into patient care.

Being a CNA teaches you about the healthcare environment, patient interactions, and the importance of teamwork in medical settings. It also gives you a chance to observe nurses and doctors, gaining a better understanding of different medical roles.

Participate in Medical Research

Medical research experience is another valuable asset for your medical school application. You can find research opportunities by contacting university labs, research hospitals, or using online resources like ResearchGate and university job boards.

Participating in clinical research allows you to contribute to scientific advancements while learning about study design, data collection, and analysis. It also helps you develop critical thinking skills and a deeper understanding of evidence-based medicine.

Internships and Externships

Internships are typically longer, often lasting several months, and may include both clinical and administrative tasks. Externships are shorter, more intensive experiences focused on clinical practice. Both provide valuable exposure to the medical field.

To secure an internship or externship, start by researching programs offered by hospitals, clinics, and universities. Application processes can be competitive, so ensure your resume, cover letter, and references are strong. Networking and attending career fairs can also help you find opportunities.

Volunteer for Nonprofits

Volunteering for healthcare-related nonprofits, such as those focusing on public health, disease prevention, or patient support, can provide meaningful clinical experience. Organizations like the American Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and local health initiatives often seek volunteers.

Community service demonstrates your commitment to helping others and can provide diverse experiences that enrich your understanding of healthcare. It also highlights your dedication to service, a quality highly valued by medical schools.

Gain Experience Abroad

Gaining clinical experience abroad can be an exciting and enriching opportunity. It exposes you to different healthcare systems and cultural approaches to medicine. However, it’s essential to ensure that the experience is reputable and aligns with medical school requirements.

Look for established programs that offer clinical placements abroad. Organizations like Projects Abroad, Gap Medics, and the Global Medical Brigades provide structured experiences with proper supervision and support.

Leverage School Resources

Most universities have pre-med advising offices that offer resources and guidance for gaining clinical experience. Advisors can help you find opportunities, prepare applications, and navigate the medical school application process.

Joining pre-med clubs and organizations can connect you with like-minded peers and provide access to exclusive opportunities, such as guest lectures, workshops, and volunteer projects. These groups often have networks that can help you find clinical experiences.

Online Clinical Experience

With advancements in technology, virtual shadowing and telehealth have become viable options for gaining clinical experience. These platforms allow you to observe patient care remotely and learn from healthcare professionals without geographical constraints.

Many institutions offer online certifications and courses in medical topics, such as CPR, first aid, and medical terminology. These certifications can complement your clinical experience and enhance your medical school application.


Gaining clinical experience is an essential step on your journey to medical school. It provides invaluable insights into the medical profession, helps you develop critical skills, and strengthens your application. Start early, explore various opportunities, and make the most of each experience. Remember, every patient interaction and healthcare setting you encounter brings you one step closer to achieving your dream of becoming a doctor.


  1. How many hours of clinical experience are needed for medical school?
    • While there is no set requirement, most medical schools recommend at least 100-150 hours of clinical experience. Quality and diversity of experience are often more important than the total number of hours.
  2. What is the best type of clinical experience for medical school?
    • There is no “best” type of clinical experience. Medical schools value a variety of experiences, including volunteering, shadowing, working as a CNA, and participating in research. Choose experiences that align with your interests and provide meaningful patient interactions.
  3. Can non-clinical volunteering count towards medical school applications?
    • Yes, non-clinical volunteering is also important. It demonstrates your commitment to service and can provide valuable skills and experiences. However, it should complement, not replace, your clinical experience.
  4. How early should I start gaining clinical experience?
    • It’s best to start gaining clinical experience as early as possible, ideally during your freshman or sophomore year of college. This allows you to explore different areas of medicine and build a strong application over time.