Question of the Week: How Much Clinical Experience is Enough?

Feb. 26, 2021

Question: Hi HPA – I did an research internship sophomore year in a hospital where I worked with a doctor on a study that would help improve patients’ experiences. I feel like it really helped me know for sure that I want to become a physician. Is this sufficient experience to have before I apply or should I look for more?
Answer: It’s great that you had such an inspiring summer experience! Now that you’ve clarified your interest, turn your focus to thinking more about the kind of physician you want to be and refining the skills you’ll need to hit the ground running in medical school. We don’t mean that you need to narrow down your medical specialty (although it’s great to shadow physicians to learn about areas of interest). We mean that you should start to think about how and where you want to spend your time as a physician.

  • Interested in urban medicine with diverse patient populations? Volunteer in areas that will help you better understand the needs of underserved and under-resourced individuals.
  • Thinking about an academic medicine career? Look for research internships that will immerse you in that setting so that you see how it works.
  • Hoping to pair work as a veterinarian with policy or administration work? Get involved in student groups or leadership opportunities where you help mobilize operations behind the scenes and can contibute to improving systems.
  • Wondering how your passion for visual arts / engineering / whatever you love will make you a better dentist? Talk to some dentists who have similar passions and see if they’ve seen a connection.

As you think about these interests, talk with alumni health professionals and other mentors who have a similar background to yours or who are doing the kinds of things that you hope to do. The more that you hear from others about how and why they do what they do, and how they got there, the better you’ll be at telling your own story of where you’re coming from and where you want to go, which is the crux of the medical school application process. And no matter what, direct experience helping others who are navigating medical needs is critical, even if that’s virtual for the time being. Think about this in the context of other activities – once you know you like it, seek ways to get better at it – if you wanted to be a professional athlete, you wouldn’t rely on one summer of hard training to get you through. You would keep refining your training and preparation, from technical skill to mindset to learning from other professionals and coaches. The same is true of how to think about preparing for your medical career. If you need ideas on who to shadow or what kinds of experience to gain, we’re happy to help you brainstorm.

QOTW 2020: One Low MCAT Section
QOTW 2019: How Med Schools Define "Clinical Experience"