Clinical experience is volunteer experience or employment in the medical field, preferably in the area that interests you the most as a potential career. For example, if you want to work in a rural family practice, you might volunteer in an rural office for family medicine. Someone interested in pathology might shadow a pathologist. General experience in a hospital, nursing home, research lab, or clinic are additional examples. The depth and breadth of the experience can vary, but it is important that your experience gives you a firsthand look at the reality of your intended career choice. Either volunteer work or paid employment is acceptable.
How Do I Get It?
There are many routes to obtaining clinical experience. Your academic advisor or department chair should have contacts in place to help you find a position. You can ask your family doctor for names of contacts. You can call local hospitals or doctor's offices. Check with labs, nursing homes, and clinics. Competitive experiences exist worldwide which may be advertised on a bulletin board outside science faculty offices. If you are having trouble finding a position, call admissions offices at medical schools and ask for ideas. Be proactive! Don't wait around for someone else to arrange this experience. Demonstrating initiative is a desirable trait for a medical college applicant.
When Should I Get It?
Ideally, you want to have started clinical experience prior to completing and submitting the AMCAS (American Medical Colleges Application Service) application. If you haven't started it before then, at least have a starting date for the experience that can be placed on the application. Not only can this experience aid in getting secondary applications and interviews, but it is often essential. For traditional students looking to enter medical school the fall following graduation from college, this means you want to start this experience during your junior year or the summer between your junior and senior year. If your timeline is different, then plan accordingly.
How Important Is Clinical Experience?
Clinical experience is very important! Many schools require it; others strongly prefer to see it. Remember that admission to a medical college is competitive, so be prepared to demonstrate your commitment. There is no excuse for not getting clinical experience. The very least that you can do is to arrange a series of interviews with medical professionals to ask them about their work. Saying 'I'm too busy' or 'I don't know anyone who can help me' or 'my advisor didn't get around to it' will not impress the selection committee. Clinical experience is important because it documents that you know what is involved in the medical profession. You are entering medical school with an awareness of the advantages and disadvantages of medicine.