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.
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. (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.)
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.
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.
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.
In the same way that it is important to reflect on shadowing experiences, we encourage you to evaluate and think about your direct patient care experiences. This will be helpful to do not only after you’ve ended an experience, but also while you are actively engaged in that experience—engaging in this kind of active reflection will help you to better articulate what you learned from the experience. Some reflections prompts you can use are:
- What core competencies did I build in this position?
- How have I grown more ready to become a physician in the future?
- What did I learn about what populations I might want to work with in the future?
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.
Resources for Gaining Clinical Experience
- Shadowing Guide
You can use this guide 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.
- Virtual Shadowing Guide
Also see this guide developed during the pandemic–while virtual shadowing is not necessarily seen as a one-to-one replacement for in-person shadowing experience, pursuing these opportunities show initiative and can help you gain valuable insight into the medical field.
- Pre-Health Clinical Opportunities
This document, put together by our office, includes real examples of places at which past medical and dental applicants have shadowed. This can be a great way to find out what locations typically accept undergraduate students and what’s near you that is available.
Direct Patient Care
- Pre-Health Clinical Opportunities
This document, put together by our office, includes real examples of places at which past medical and dental applicants have gained direct patient care experience. This can be a great way to find out what locations typically accept undergraduate students and what’s near you that is available.
- Hospital Volunteering Guide
This guide links directly to hospitals throughout Connecticut, as well as other states in the Northeast region. Each hospital has a different policy when it comes to accepting volunteers, so make sure to use the included links to do appropriate research.
- University of Connecticut Health Leaders (UCHL)
The UCHL program is a community-based, pre-health program with the intention of bridging health care disparities by addressing social determinants of health. The program focuses on training pre-professional students on how to advocate for and improve the way care is delivered to patients.
- Collegiate Health Service Corps (CHSC)
CHSC’s mission is to expose undergraduate students to health careers through service learning experiences that promote preventative health care to underserved communities at a state-wide level. It’s training modules include sessions on Eliminating Health Disparities, Health Literacy, and First Aid and CPR certifications.
- Migrant Farm Worker Clinics
The Migrant Farm Worker Clinics operate annually from June to October, are conducted on-site at farm worker barracks, free of charge, and offer medical and dental screenings to farm workers throughout Connecticut. This program was specifically designed to recognize one of the most economically disadvantaged and medically vulnerable groups living in the United States, with the purpose of breaking down barriers to accessible care.
- UConn School of Medicine Health Career Opportunities Program (HCOP)
HCOP actively recruits underrepresented medical and dental students and supports participants realizing their dreams of becoming health care providers. It not only supports students actively enrolled in medical or dental school, but also offers summer enrichment programs for current college students.
- Community Outreach Health Service Semester-Long Programs
The Office of Community Outreach at UConn is a fantastic way to get involved in various service activities. They offer specific health service semester-long programs, as well as health-oriented alternative breaks.
- Student Health and Wellness Student Employment
SHAW is UConn’s on-campus hub for providing medical care. They offer a number of great ways for pre-health students to get involved as volunteers—such as their UConn Sexperts and UConn S.H.A.P.E. programs—and they also offer employment opportunities to gain direct patient care experience.
- EMT Training course (AH 4092)
This course is in partnership with Hartford Hospital’s EMT Training Program, and offers a way for students to gain classroom instruction and a formal EMT certification. Note that there is an additional cost to enrollment because of the certification component.