How Much Clinical Experience Do I Need for Med School Apps?

Session 121

As you start to look at your extracurriculars for medical school, you may start worrying that you don’t have enough clinical experience. How much is enough?

As usual here on the OldPreMeds Podcast, we’re taking this week’s question directly from the Nontrad Premed Forum and answering it to help you on your journey to becoming a physician.

[02:00] OldPreMeds Question of the Week

“I’m a nontraditional applicant diagnosed with various autoimmune diseases while in grad school for music. And ultimately, this experience has led me to want to be a physician. I’m worried that I don’t have sufficient clinical experience and I’m hoping to get some advice.

I volunteered for eight months, one day per week, so about 200 hours at a community health clinic in the U.S., helping a physician run group medical visits. During the same period, I shadowed a family medicine doctor, an EM resident, a general surgery resident, and an internal medicine resident, totaling 56 hours.

200 hours of volunteering at a health clinic, 150 hours of volunteering with a youth diabetes organization, and 56 hours of shadowing—is it enough?Click To Tweet

Then I had to move countries—visa and green card stuff—and began my do-it-yourself postbac and started volunteering with a youth diabetes organization helping run kids’ camps and other events for about 150 hours.

I’m currently prepping for the MCAT and working as an administrator for neurology service at a hospital in the city where I live. Any thoughts are gratefully received.”

[03:00] Shadowing Residents as a Premed

Shadowing residents is typically not something considered useful. You want to shadow attending physicians. While it’s valuable experience, shadowing residents cannot really be included in your time. Residents are different from attending physicians in terms of what they do day in and day out because they’re still learning. So you wouldn’t want to include resident shadowing as shadowing hours.

Shadowing residents is typically not something considered useful. You want to shadow attendings.Click To Tweet

[03:40] Volunteering Hours and Consistency

Volunteering for eight months at a community health clinic is great. The one thing though that students need to understand is that you don’t get the hours you think you need and then stop. And so for doing it for eight months, you could have done it for eight months as a freshman, as a sophomore, or eight months two years ago and this is not sufficient. No matter how many hours it is.

Therefore, you need to have consistency with your experiences. You need consistent clinical experience, consistent nonclinical volunteering, consistent shadowing. Even if you think you have enough total hours, if the last time you shadowed was last year, it’s not good enough. Consistency is very important.

You need to have consistency with your efforts as a premed: consistent clinical experience, consistent volunteering, consistent shadowing.Click To Tweet

So if it was consistent, 200 hours may be enough. But then again, it needs to be consistent. There are no hard numbers with this.

If you volunteer at a youth diabetes organization helping run kids camps, whether it’s considered to be a clinical experience depends on what you’re doing there. If you’re volunteering at the community clinic, whether that’s clinical experience again depends on what you were doing there.

[Related episode: Does Massage Therapy Count as Clinical Experience?]

[05:25] Consistency is Key

When you look at your hours, when you look at your body of work with your extracurriculars, it’s not just a matter of adding everything up and that’s it, you’re good to go. You need to have consistency. So as you’re planning out your premed path, don’t front-load all of your experiences and then take time off to study for the MCAT or to focus on applications.

Consistency is one of the most important things in a med school app—not just total hours.Click To Tweet

When you have consistency, it doesn’t need to be ten hours a week. It doesn’t need to fill up your schedule. But you need to have consistency. This could mean a couple of hours a week or a couple of hours every couple of weeks, or a few hours every month. Consistency is one of the most important things, not just total hours.

[Related episode: Is Research More Important Than Clinical Experience?]

[06:17] What Counts as Clinical Experience?

Clinical experience is when you’re interacting with patients. You should be close enough to smell the patient. If you’re interacting with the patients, then I would consider it clinical experience. So depending on what you’re doing at the diabetes camp, that could be considered clinical experience as they’re “patients” at the camp.

Were you doing anything clinically related with them, talking about their diabetes and helping them with their finger sticks, etc.? If yes, then that would be considered clinical experience.

Clinical experience is when you're interacting with patients. You should be close enough to smell the patient.Click To Tweet

It doesn’t have to be in a hospital setting or an outpatient office setting for it to be clinical. As long as who you’re interacting with are patients, and you’re doing some sort of patient-related thing, then it’s clinical.

A good example is hospice work. You are typically at the patient’s house, just interacting with them and talking with them. You’re just being there for them and helping with their psychological health. That is clinical experience.

[Related episode: Can I Get In Enough Shadowing and Clinical Experience?]

[07:18] Final Thoughts

So as you go through this process, again, don’t just look at the total numbers and say you’re good. Make sure you have some consistency and still add some hours every couple of weeks or every week or month—whatever rate allows you to continue to do these experiences so you have consistency.

And for shadowing physicians, make sure they’re attending physicians, not residents.

If you have a question you want answered here on the podcast, go over to the Nontrad Premed Forum, sign up for an account if you haven’t already, and ask away!

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