Clinical Experience for Medical School: What Exactly Do You Need?

February 21, 2024
7 min read


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 2/21/24

Wondering how to gain clinical experience for med school? Read on about medical experience types and how to find them! 

Clinical experience, or clinical exposure, is actively engaging with patients or their care. Medical schools want to see you have the ability to communicate effectively and interact with patients. Read on to learn everything you need to know about clinical experience for med school!

Clinical experience for medical school
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Why Do You Need Clinical Experience for Med School?

Gaining clinical experience shows you have the soft skills necessary to succeed as a physician. Showing the initiative to seek meaningful experiences prior to medical school will help you stand out. Beyond a high GPA and MCAT score, medical schools are searching for compassionate students who can easily interact with patients.

Infographic outlining why you need to have clinical experience for med school

Pursuing clinical experiences before medical school shows you’ve tested your motivation to become a doctor, understand the work and responsibilities you’ll eventually have, and have started developing the key skills you’ll need to become an excellent physician. 

Medicine is ideally a lifelong commitment. Medical school and residency alone take at least seven years to complete; schools want to make sure you’ve done your due diligence to expose yourself to the field.

What Is Considered Clinical Experience for Medical School?

Clinical experience for med school encompasses any medical-related activity you’ve participated in where you’ve interacted with patients and their care. Clinical experience can include (but isn’t limited to) shadowing a physician, volunteering as an EMT, or working as a hospital scribe or pharmacy tech.

You may also be wondering whether a position in a non-traditional setting, such as being a caregiver, counts as clinical experience. The short answer is that any hands-on patient care role should count as experience for med school, although you should check with your specific target school’s requirements in case there are any caveats. 

Types of Clinical Experience

The first step in knowing how to gain clinical experience for med school is understanding clinical experience types. Clinical experience can be either paid or unpaid. We’ll outline some medical experience examples below.

image of Types of Clinical Experience

Unpaid/Volunteer Clinical Experiences 

Unpaid experiences include volunteering with a medical organization or shadowing a physician. Obtaining good volunteer experience can help you expand your network and refine your interpersonal skills. 

Here are some unpaid/volunteer clinical experiences you can seek to broaden your horizons and strengthen your profile.

1. Shadowing a Physician 

Shadowing a physician means you follow them through their day as they work with patients, diagnose illnesses, and prescribe treatments. Physician shadowing is an excellent way to understand a doctor’s daily responsibilities and how to interact with patients.

2. Volunteer EMT 

You can give yourself a head start by choosing a volunteer opportunity, such as becoming an EMT. EMT volunteer programs offer training and allow you to take a more hands-on approach to patient care. EMT positions can also be paid, depending on your training. 

Some schools, like Emory University, provide EMS services that will train you to become an EMT and respond to emergency situations on campus. 

3. Medical Center Volunteer 

Medical centers often have many needs for volunteers to fill, such as: 

  • Admitting new patients 
  • Greeting and guiding patients/visitors 
  • Attending to families in waiting rooms who are waiting for loved ones to exit surgeries 
  • Performing administrative tasks

Some medical centers primarily work with medical students or are affiliated with universities to intake students as volunteers. 

4. Hospice Volunteer 

Hospice volunteer opportunities allow you to be a source of comfort for patients and their families. Hospice patients are preparing for the end of their lives, and their families are preparing with them. 

This will prepare you for the hard moments you will experience as a physician. Hospice volunteers have the opportunity to be hands-on, depending on the hospice program. Certain programs allow volunteers to provide massage or even aromatherapy. 

5. Emergency Room Volunteer 

Emergency room volunteers provide comfort to potentially panicked or distressed families. Your position will provide them with items of comfort such as blankets and pillows, possibly even toys. 

This position can help you prepare for the varied days doctors work every day. You’ll gain experience helping individuals work through a range of emotions, including anger, sorrow, and anxiety. Exposure to a range of emotions while presenting a strong and compassionate front is a skill worth fostering.

Paid Clinical Experiences 

Paid clinical experiences help you gain the necessary yield knowledge you need while also earning a wage. Here are examples of clinical experience where you can be paid for your work.

Infographic outlining the pros and cons of paid and unpaid experiences

6. Medical Scribe 

Medical scribes listen to and record interactions between patients and physicians and transcribe medical histories and diagnostic results. 

Morgan Carter, a medical scribe spotlighted by the AAMC, said, “a medical scribe helps physicians provide more effective and efficient care by saving them time by documenting findings from patient exams and assessments.” 

7. Emergency Room Technician

Compared to volunteer emergency room technicians, individuals in this role take a more active role in the physical care of patients. They may dress wounds, take samples, and monitor vitals. Emergency room technicians are exposed to a wide range of fast-paced emergency situations, preparing them to think on their feet. 


A Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) helps with daily tasks and supports patients through numerous activities, including: 

  • Bathing 
  • Eating 
  • Grooming 
  • Mobility 

CNAs typically work under the direct supervision of a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or a Registered Nurse (RN).

Licensed practical nurses are able to take vitals, collect samples, and administer medicines. They can also work in assorted patient-centric locations expanding options from the hospital while obtaining clinical experience. 


Phlebotomists can work in hospitals or clinics drawing blood samples. Working as a phlebotomist can expose you to many patients needing blood drawn for various reasons. Working in hospitals and clinics can help you expand your network while gaining valuable patient care exposure. 

Pharmacy Technician 

Pharmacy technicians work for retail pharmacies or hospitals. While any hands-on experience is beneficial, a hospital setting will familiarize you with the experiences you will have as both a student and resident. No matter where you work, you'll gather insights into medications used to treat certain illnesses alongside pharmacists. 

Remember, the point of clinical experience is to prove you’ve explored medicine enough to know becoming a physician is right for you. The amount and type of clinical exposure you are able to gain varies greatly from opportunity to opportunity. 

Any of these options are excellent ways to gain patient care exposure and an understanding of the medical field. 

How to Choose Your Clinical Experience for Medical School

Any meaningful experience that exposes you to patients should be sufficient to consider clinical experience. When contemplating which role to choose, you must consider your interests, time commitments, and other responsibilities. Consider how many clinical hours for medical school you can commit to regularly. 

If you’re a college student searching for clinical exposure, a part-time opportunity may be best. Try to plan for several months at minimum to show admissions committees your ability to commit to a position long-term. A quality choice is a position you’re enthusiastic about doing!

Even if you’re a non-traditional student, it’s best to consider your options and how you’d balance clinical experience opportunities with a full-time job, classes, and other responsibilities. Full-time positions require more training, but several options will have you gaining clinical experience in less than a year

When choosing clinical experiences, ensure you consider how much time you can allot weekly, what areas of medicine you’re interested in, and what you’re passionate about. ‍

How to Find Clinical Experiences

Finding clinical experience opportunities can be challenging for pre-med and non-traditional students. Here’s a quick rundown on how to seek shadowing, volunteering, and paid experience!

Tips for finding clinical experiences


The easiest way to find shadow opportunities is by starting with who you know and asking. You can try asking your family doctor, science professors, or reaching out to your pre-med advisor to learn whether your school is affiliated with nearby medical centers and hospitals. 

Additionally, it can be beneficial to consider what type of physician you want to shadow. For example, if you love working with children, search for pediatricians to shadow. 

After you’ve decided, search for that type of physician in your area and begin the cold calling or cold emailing process. Remember, physicians are busy, so you likely won’t be able to stop by and talk to them. Also, securing more than one opportunity is always a good idea!


If you’re wondering how to gain clinical experience, your college is an excellent place to start. Your school may be able to connect you to volunteer opportunities if you connect with your pre-med advisors or the school medical center. If they have their own EMS program, they may provide you with EMT training. 

If your school doesn’t have its own EMS program, consider pursuing volunteer positions through your school’s affiliated hospitals or medical centers. If your school isn’t affiliated with many medical centers, you can consider reaching out to local hospitals in your area. 

You can often find information about applying to volunteer online with several opportunities listed. Call or email to learn more about each one and get an idea of which option will help you gain hands-on experience. 

Some hospitals have a coordinator for volunteers; this is who you would speak with if you’d like to volunteer in this setting. Remember, you want to enjoy the volunteer positions you pick – ensure it’s sustainable for you to dedicate your time to so you can build a lasting relationship with other volunteers and supervisors.

Paid Experiences

Most paid experience options require training or a certificate (medical scribes are an exception). Some jobs provide on-the-job training, but this isn’t the case for all paid work. 

For example, earning a certificate to become a phlebotomist can take as little as three weeks, with the average being eight weeks. The Red Cross sometimes hires phlebotomists and pays for their training (which is helpful, as some courses can cost $1000 or more).

After you get your certifications, you can apply for these paid positions. Ensure you forge meaningful relationships and perform well in whichever role you work toward. Your supervisors may eventually write you letters of recommendation from medical school. 

How Many Clinical Hours Do I Need for Med School?

Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately for anxious pre-meds), there’s no set amount of hours you need to spend gaining clinical experience. Most med schools don’t set a concrete requirement

What’s important is that you’ve committed to an experience long enough to demonstrate dedication. It’s common for students to have 100 hours or more under their belts when applying to medical school. 

However, it can certainly work in your favor to have more hours – we recommend pursuing a variety of paid and unpaid clinical experiences to bolster your application.


Still have questions about clinical experience? Then check out these FAQs! 

1. Does Research Experience Count as Clinical Experience? 

It depends on your involvement. If you take patient histories or collect samples, those interactions can be considered clinical experience.

2. How Many Hours of Clinical Experience Do I Need to Apply to Med School? 

There’s no magic number of clinical experience hours needed for medical school. However, 100 to 150 hours is considered a good goal for clinical experience hours. Of course, you can always strive for more experience – it wouldn’t hurt. 

3. What Is the Best Way to Get Clinical Experience? 

The best way to get clinical experience depends on what you want to do. It’s an excellent idea to start with opportunities in your community. 

For example, you can visit your school’s advising center, check listings at local hospitals and medical centers, or cold call physicians to shadow those who work in specialties you’re interested in. 

4. What Counts as Clinical Experience? 

Clinical experience encompasses any medical-related activity you’ve participated in where you’ve interacted with patients and their care. Clinical experience can include volunteering at a hospital, working as an EMT, and many other roles where you work in a medical setting and interact with patients. 

5. Does Shadowing Count as Clinical Experience? 

The AAMC states shadowing counts as clinical experience, although other sources have different opinions. Shadowing is less hands-on than clinical experience, but it’s very important to do. As you pursue pre-med experiences, we recommend participating in shadowing and other clinical experiences. 

6. Does Scribing Count as Clinical Experience? 

Medical scribing absolutely counts as a clinical experience – you’ll work with physicians to record interactions between them and patients.

7. What Is Not a Way to Gain Experience for Working in the Medical Field?

To get clinical experience, you should be interacting with patients and doing hands-on work. Some examples of jobs in clinical settings that do not count as experience for med school would include administrative jobs, IT jobs, or HR jobs at hospitals. 

Final Thoughts

Don’t neglect clinical experience opportunities as you prepare for medical school; your experiences can help show your commitment and passion for medicine. Don’t forget that gaining clinical experience is about patient exposure and striving for quality over quantity. 

Do your best to obtain experiences that will give the admissions committee a reason to believe you’re dedicated to the long, rigorous path of medicine. Varied clinical experiences can show your commitment and round out your profile!

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