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Types of Experiences

Shadowing and Clinical

Clinical 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.

Obtaining Clinical Experience

Clinical experience can be obtained through volunteer service or shadowing. Visit our Explore Opportunities page or our interactive map for a longer list of volunteer sites. 

  • 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. Check out the HPA-NM Physician Shadowing Program. 

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.
  • Northwestern Global Learning experiences.
  • Northwestern's Chicago Field Studies or 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 wait-lists 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.


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.


Admission committees like to see applicants with research experience because it shows they:

  • Contributed to the advancement of knowledge.
  • Engaged in critical thinking.
  • Developed an appreciation for how research is done.
  • Gained skills in working in a team-environment.
  • Learned basic lab, survey and/or other research skills.

Students who participate in research may also have an opportunity to contribute to the publication of a paper, or may develop an interest in pursuing an MD-PhD.

Summer Programs

Gain in-depth experience through participation in summer enrichment, internships, or research programs.

Program admissions staff and faculty are often interested in your ‘journey traveled,’ essentially what it has taken to get where you are, currently, and how their program will further your journey. So, take some time to reflect on your journey, past, present and future.

Post-Graduation Programs

Thinking about taking time off before applying to medical or graduate school? There are many, many things you can pursue during your bridge years – the key is planning ahead! Below, you’ll find a few resources and ideas to explore further. This list is not exhaustive; there are many other regional, national, and international opportunities available as well.

Find opportunities to gain experience