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?

We take questions directly from the Nontrad Premed Forum and answer them here on the podcast to help you on your journey to becoming a physician.

Also, take a listen to all our other podcasts including The Premed Years Podcast, which includes nontraditional premed stories, MCAT advice, regular premed stories, interviews with the admissions committee members, and much more! The MCAT Podcast is a show done with Next Step Test Prep. If you’re looking at getting full-length practice exams, check out Next Step which has up to ten-full length practice tests for the new MCAT. Use the promo code MSHQ to save 10% off.

[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, we shuffle my value system as a result leading 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.

I then 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

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

[03:40] Volunteering Hours and Consistency

Volunteering for eight months at a community health clinic in the U.S. 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. This means 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.

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 helping run the community clinic and volunteering there, whether that’s clinical experience again depends on what you were doing there.

[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 path, don’t front load all of your experiences so that you can then take the time off and focus on MCAT. Or take the time off and focus on applications.

When you have consistency, it doesn’t mean 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.

[06:17] What is 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 the diabetes and helping them with their finger sticks, etc.? If yes, then that would be considered clinical experience.

It doesn’t have to be in a hospital setting for it to be clinical 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 the 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.

[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 build some hours every couple of weeks or every week or month, whatever that is for you to continue to do these experiences so you have consistency when it comes to applying to medical school. 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 Forums and sign up for an account, if you haven’t already. And ask away!

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