Clinical experience is an umbrella term used to refer to both shadowing and direct patient care experience. These experiences are critical for your development and for showing prospective schools that you have “tried out” the field you’re interested in pursuing and are fully dedicated to your chosen career path.
There is no “right time” to begin gaining clinical experience; however, it is common for first-year students to explore on-campus opportunities and resources during the academic year, and begin volunteering or shadowing in a clinical setting the summer after their first year. From that point, students and future applicants should look to gain both shadowing and direct patient care experience.
Keep in mind that connections you make with physicians/providers or your supervisors in this setting are important to build and keep so that you may ask for a letter of recommendation for your application. Note that if you are following a pre-medical path and know that you would like to apply to DO schools, it is important to try and find a DO physician to shadow.
Shadowing is when you follow a healthcare professional during their work day and observe the flow of their job. This is a great low-risk introduction to your desired field and a logical first step to take in terms of gaining clinical experience. It will allow you to accumulate helpful knowledge and experience, understand the role of that person as a part of the healthcare team, and observe the provider-patient interaction.
We encourage you to reflect on these experiences as and after you have them so that you are able to communicate in future applications and interviews what you learned. Consider journaling about the following things to help you identify what you would like to emulate as a future practitioner:
- The provider’s ability to connect with patients—how did they showcase social skills and cultural competence? What inspired you?
- What you enjoyed about their specialty—did you enjoy the fast-paced or more laid back environment? Do they get to work with a large or small healthcare team? Are they engaged in hands-on work?
- Their work ethic—what did they showcase in terms of dedication to the profession, i.e. routinely reading new studies, time spent answering patient questions. etc.?
For pre-medical and pre-dental applicants, you will want to accumulate around 50-75 hours of shadowing experience by the time you apply. Ideally, this would be split up either across specialties–for pre-medical applicants–or between different providers. This allows for the accumulation of diverse perspectives.
Typically, the easiest way to gain shadowing experience is to utilize your network and any connections you may have to the healthcare field (note that we do not recommend that applicants directly shadow any family members, though you can use family to find someone to shadow). You can also start by asking any doctors you regularly see or have met with in the past, such as your primary care provider.
Please note: It is important to acknowledge that most providers have not allowed for in-person shadowing during the Covid-19 pandemic, so shadowing expectations may be relaxed some. In the meantime, be persistent, but also explore virtual shadowing opportunities and be intentional as you reflect upon your learning in any shadowing setting.
Our office has also put together a Shadowing Guide that you can use to find opportunities throughout Connecticut and read tips on how to connect with physicians. If you are a non-Connecticut resident and would like to shadow in your home state, we still encourage you to review this document so that you can glean helpful information for your own search process. Please also see this Virtual Shadowing Guide developed during the pandemic.
Direct Patient Care
Direct patient care experience refers to when you gain one-on-one interaction with patients and/or you are the one directly administering the healthcare in some form. There are many different avenues through which people can garner direct patient care experience, so we encourage you to consider what is most of interest to you, how you can best use your skills, and what you feel fits best with your future career goals.
Ideally, pre-medical and pre-dental applicants should bring in a minimum of 100 hours of direct patient care experience (hour expectations will vary for other careers, such as physician assistants). These hours can be accumulated in the same setting, or in various settings. This is a critical part of the application for showing schools that you have hands-on experience in the field that you want to enter, and you are certain you are suited to your chosen path.
Some examples of opportunities are:
- Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
- Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
- Medical Scribe
- Medical Assistant
- Physical Therapy Aide
- Personal Care Aide (PCA)
Several of these positions do require formal certification, so make sure to research those requirements and where/how long you will be able to work with your certification. Keep in mind that there are many ways to accumulate direct patient care experience, even if they may appear “non-traditional”, it is likely they still qualify—if you are uncertain, we welcome you to meet with an advisor.
Please see below a listing of UConn resources to gain direct patient care experience: