Clinical Experience & Shadowing
Click a link to jump to a section:
- What is clinical experience?
- How can I get clinical experience?
- How do I find clinical and/or shadowing experience?
- Tips for clinical/shadowing experience
- Clinical experience & shadowing FAQs
- Involves the care and treatment of patients
- Ideally involves observing the patient/doctor relationship
- Can be obtained through volunteer service, shadowing and other life experiences
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
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
Our Clinical & Shadowing Opportunities section has links to a range of different opportunities, however, you are not limited to the experiences listed there. Choose experiences that will help you test your decision to enter the field of medicine. Remember, it's better to have fewer experiences that show consistent involvement over time versus many short-term experiences.
- 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.
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?
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:
- 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