Importance of Clinical Experience: Build a Winning Application


March 16, 2020

The medical school application process is increasingly becoming more and more competitive, with thousands of students competing for a small number of spots. While clinical experiences aren’t always listed as mandatory, it is only prudent that you go and get some authentic clinical experience to make your application complete. Here are some of the advantages obtained from engaging in meaningful clinical experiences:

  • Clinical experiences can help you in writing a true and genuine personal statement. A strong personal statement will increase your chances of selection for the secondary application and interview. But a good personal statement essay cannot be created out of vacuum, with no first-hand experience of what it means to interact with patients in a clinical environment. Getting a clinical experience not only enriches your personality and outlook but also provides you with interesting and genuine anecdotes that can truly reflect your interest and passion for medicine.
  • Clinical experiences can prove to be opportunities to create connections which can lead to competitive letters of recommendation. Moreover, clinical experiences expose you to the various sub-disciplines of medicine and help you decide which path you would like to carve for yourself. In order to ensure that you get a meaningful LOR by the end of your clinical experience, try to spend time learning and building a relationship with your supervisor. That being said, receiving a LOR should not be your sole aim. Your primary goal should be to take advantage of the opportunity and learn through exposure and hands-on experience.
  • Clinical experiences enrich your personal understanding of the medical profession, making you aware of the everyday challenges that health-care professionals face. The knowledge and experience you gain through clinical exposure is immensely helpful when it comes to answering varied questions during interviews. Think about these questions as you start experiencing the clinical aspect of medicine: what are some of the challenges physicians face? What dynamics are important in a healthcare setting? How do physicians approach patients from a variety of different backgrounds?
  • Clinical experiences give you an opportunity to interact with fellow pre-med students and build a network of people who are genuinely passionate and interested in medicine and are facing the same challenges you are. The importance of having a support group that shares your fears and motivation cannot be stressed enough.
  • Clinical experiences are especially important when it comes to answering secondary application essays and questions. Almost all med schools ask questions related to clinical experiences or volunteering work. Having various and continuous clinical experiences to talk about is the most credible way of showing your interest and passion for medicine.
  • Clinical experiences can play an important role when it comes to justifying gap years or changes in career path. This is especially useful if you are a non-traditional pre-med student or a post-bac looking for a way to substantiate your interest in medicine. Pursuing clinical jobs during your time off from school, especially when those that require certifications such as EMT or phlebotomist, can reinforce your commitment to work the healthcare field.

How to look for clinical opportunities

Clinical opportunities are plenty. The community and society around you  is replete with opportunities and clinical settings. If you are having a hard time finding clinical opportunities we suggest that you go through our list. 

After going through the list, you can discuss the various avenues with your pre-med guide. They can connect you with institutions or people in their network and provide a referral for joining places open for clinical internships. Usually a list of volunteer sites is available online, search for local community centers or volunteer offices. Look for information on hospitals and clinics in your area.

Once you have a list of clinics and hospitals you would like to join, begin approaching them through email, phone or by dropping by in person. Submit a good statement of purpose if they require one, and list references from past employers or professors if needed.

Making the best of your clinical experience:

In order make the most out of the time and effort you spent doing clinical work, you have to be aware of two things. First, you must know what the purpose of clinical experiences is and secondly, you must know how to use that experience to demonstrate your strengths as a pre-med student. Remember that at the secondary application stage, almost all students have a good amount of clinical experiences to write about. Thus, try to make your experience genuine and unique, talking about patient encounters and scenarios that resonated with you, in order to make your application stand out.

Here are some caveats which you should keep in mind before you start your clinical experience:

  • Keep an attitude that shows your desire to learning and improve yourself. Be humble and listen attentively. Observe all the elements involved in quality medical care.
  • If you are shadowing a physician, don’t bother him/her too much. Instead, spend a few days observing him or him and gradually start asking questions and developing a student-mentor relationship.
  • Be open minded and don’t try to land surgery or operating room opportunities too quickly. Understand every person’s role and responsibility in the clinical setting and sit with every individual worker, from nurses to administrative assistants, to understand how they tackle everyday challenges of the medical profession.
  • When appropriate, interact with patients and people who come to the clinic for health-care advice. This is the most important aspect of your internship and the insights you gain will add richness and depth to your understanding of the profession as a whole.
  • Try to reflect on how many agents and professionals come together and collaborate to provide quality medical care.
  • An internship is actually what you make out of it. Don’t expect others to guide and help you, rather be pro-active and seek opportunities to learn and improve.
  • Be aware of the work-place ethics and make sure you go through the HIPAA act.
  • Do not violate patient-doctor confidentiality and patient privacy. Be professional.

We highly recommend that you keep a journal so that you can  integrate your everyday experiences in one place and make sense of the observation and encounters you experience.

How to use clinical experiences to enhance your med-school application 

There are several ways to use clinical experiences to enhance your application.

  • Make sure that you write about your experiences in your Personal Statement Essay in a way that reflects your passion for medicine and your maturity in understanding the challenges healthcare professionals and patients face.
  • What you learned from clinical experiences is frequently asked in a short-essays format in your secondary applications. It is a good idea to keep a journal, so that when you receive your secondary applications you can easily refer to that and reflect on the various responsibilities you took up while interning and what you learned.
  • Clinical experiences also make good interview questions. Therefore, it is extremely important that you review them while preparing for the interviews. Make sure that you are able to articulate your experiences and especially the various lessons you learned.

Again, “pre-med journaling” is a great way to make the best out of your clinical exercise. You can also talk about your experiences with your pre-med mentor to better integrate these experiences into cohesive story.

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