Shadowing & Clinical Experience
Cinical experience gives you a first-hand look into the daily life of a physician. It often involves:
- Care and treatment of patients.
- Observing the patient/doctor relationship.
Clinical experience is important because medicals schools want to be confident that:
- You have a good understanding of the realities of medicine.
- You are service-minded and people oriented.
- You are committed to the practice of medicine.
Medical schools evaluate your clinical experience by:
- Length/time of commitment (some schools expect a minimum of one year).
- Depth of experience.
- Lessons learned from the experience.
Jump to section:
Clinical experience can obtained through volunteer service or shadowing.
- Volunteering at community clinics and/or hospitals allows you to observe a multitude of health care professionals and gain knowledge of how a hospital and/or clinic is run.
- Shadowing a physician allows you to observe the daily life of a doctor and obtain insight from professionals about their experiences and how they view their field.
Other ways of engaging in these types of experiences include:
- Volunteering at a social service agency (suicide hotline, Alzheimer's Association, etc.)
- Volunteering at a hospice center, a retirement center, or a crisis center
- NU Study Abroad experiences
- NU Chicago Field Studies or NU Engage Chicago programs
- If you're looking for physicians to shadow, consider starting with your personal network. Some students choose to begin their shadowing experience by checking with their own doctor to see if shadowing is possible.
- While it's great to have family members who are in the health professions, medical schools also expect you to step out of your comfort zone and shadow/volunteer with health professionals who are non-family members.
- Remember to begin looking for clinical experience early! Some locations have waitlists or extensive volunteer application/training processes, and it may take some time before you're able to begin your clinical experience.
- As you're contacting doctors to shadow or sites for potential clinical experience, be sure to let them know you're a pre-med/pre-health student, and explain why this experience will be important/relevant to you.
- Keep track of dates and hours! You will likely be asked to supply that information, along with a contact person and phone number or email address, for each experience you list on your application.
- Keep a journal about your experiences. The journal will not only help you in your decision-making process, it will help generate material for your personal statement and secondary application questions.
Below, you'll find a list of opportunities in which Northwestern students have previously participated. Although you are not limited to these experiences or locations, this is a great starting point to help you gain a broader perspective of the types of opportunities that are available to you.
For the most recently posted opportunities, be sure to check out our Weekly Update.
- Northwestern Externship (NEXT) Program: NEXT is a one-day job-shadowing program sponsored by the Northwestern Alumni Association and Northwestern Career Advancement which connects students with an NU alum to offer an insider's view of the daily activities of a given profession. Learn how to participate the NEXT website.
- Northwestern Community Development Corps (NCDC) is a student-run organization which seeks to engage students in community development at Northwestern, in Evanston, and throughout Chicago by promoting volunteer work at local sites including Symphony of Evanston, Community Health, the Heartland Alliance, and La Rabida Children's Hospital.
- Volunteer Match provides access to a wide variety of location-specific volunteer opportunities.
- The Cradle (Evanston) is a non-sectarian adoption agency with an on-site nursery.
- Horizon Hospice (Chicago) and Rainbow Hospice (Chicago & Suburbs) deliver comprehensive care to terminally ill patients and their families throughout the Chicago area, primarily in their homes or residential facilities.
- La Clinica is a health care establishment in Hispanic communities in Metro Chicago.
- New Life Volunteering Society provides basic preventative care, health care and health education to uninsured and underserved patients and the community, and offers learning opportunities for students in the clinical setting.
- NU Practicum in Athletics Allied Healthcare assists NU students in their education as future medical professionals by exposing them to the qualities of the sports medicine profession.
- Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago provides inpatient, day rehabilitation and outpatient patient service in physical medicine and rehabilitation.
Local hospitals and clinics
- Advocate Lutheran General Hospital
- American Cancer Society
- Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago
- Community Health
- Erie Family Health Center
- Lawndale Christian Health Center
- Marjorie Kovler Center
- North Chicago VA Hospital
- Northshore University HealthSystem (formerly Evanston Hospital and Rush North Shore Medical Center)
- Old Irving Park Community Clinic
- St. Francis Hospital
- Symphony of Evanston (formerly Mather Pavilion)
Funding and internship-related information
- Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA) Internship Initiative: Northwestern's University Career Services holds an annual Internship Initiative to provide students with an opportunity to network with employers and learn key information for their internship search.
- Summer Internship Grant Program (SIGP): A $2000 grant award for students completing unpaid internships during the summer. Students are selected based on application.
I volunteered at a hospital during high school: is that enough experience?
While high school experiences are useful, additional experiences during college will be most valuable for medical schools to assess. They want to see what experiences you engaged in as an adult. Post-secondary (beyond high school) experiences will demonstrate that you can manage a rigorous academic schedule and still have a life outside of school.
Should I just do shadowing or a combination of shadowing and volunteering?
Ideally, students should have a combination of shadowing and volunteering. Shadowing is usually short term but a student is able to see many different facets of medicine through different shadowing experiences. Volunteering allows students to demonstrate a commitment to service over time. It's usually a more active experience than shadowing, which tends to be more observation.
How do I find out about volunteer, clinical, and shadowing summer opportunities?
Many opportunities students in which students engage during the year (i.e. volunteering at a clinicl or hospital) can be continued during the summer months. You can also check out our Summer Programs section. We also encourage students to sign-up for our Weekly Update, which highlights premed/pre-health events, opportunities and information.
Is volunteering in a non-healthcare setting valued?
Volunteering in any community service setting can demonstrate personal qualities that are valued in the health professions, such as:
- Commitment to service
- Willingness to give of one's time and energy
- Capacity to work with and relate to people of different cultures/socioeconomic levels
- Ability to balance academics with outside interests
Further, many medical schools prefer to see that applicants have engaged in both medical AND non-medical volunteer experiences.