Clinical experience for premed students is important for the following reasons:

  • To observe and understand the role and responsibilities of physicians
  • To get exposure to various healthcare settings and environments and learn how to navigate healthcare systems
  • To obtain patient care skills and knowledge and to interact with people from diverse backgrounds
  • To evaluate whether a career in medicine is right for you
  • To gain experiences that you can draw from to help you articulate and demonstrate your knowledge, skills and interest in the field when writing your personal statements, secondary essays, and preparing for interviews

Every single experience may not cover all of the above aspects, so most students will engage in different types of clinical exposure. Keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity. It’s better to have a few experiences that involve some depth, longevity and role progression than scores of superficial experiences.

While some of your experiences may involve various healthcare/helping professionals (nurses, physical and occupational therapist, psychologists, mental health therapists, social workers, public health workers, for instance), it’s important to have some exposure to physicians.

Review this guide to learn more about clinical experiences for premed students

How many hours of patient care do you need?

There is no magical formula, unless a school requires a specific number of hours. The more time you spend assessing your interest in the field and increasing your knowledge and skills, the better. Focus on the impact you’ll be able to have on patients and the organization and the competencies you’ll gain from your experiences. The duration of an experience could be more meaningful than the number of hours.

Sometimes the specific position you held could be less important than what you learned from it. During and after each experience, spend some time reflecting on your contributions, what you learned and how it shaped your understanding of medicine and strengthen your commitment to the field. Also, update your resume.

What is considered clinical experience?

Clinical experience is paid or unpaid observation or direct contact with patients including shadowing. It often occurs within a hospital or healthcare setting, but not always. It’s best if the bulk of your experience comes from actual direct contact rather than passive shadowing.

When you apply to medical school, you will categorize each of your activities–three of the possible categories are:

  • Community service/volunteer – medical/clinical
  • Paid employment – medical/clinical
  • Physician shadowing/clinical observation

You will choose the category that best describes each of your experiences and you should be able to justify your choices, if asked.

Types of Clinical Experiences


Hospital/Clinic/Urgent Care

  • Community health worker
  • Health outreach worker
  • Clinical research
  • Emergency medical technician (EMT)
  • Emergency services technician
  • Certified nurse assistant (CNA)
  • Medical interpreter/translator
  • Home health care aide
  • Patient sitter or observer
  • Patient care technician
  • Patient care associate
  • Medical assistant
  • Patient transporter
  • Medical scribe

Personal Residence/Nursing Home/Hospice

  • Caregiver (ill or elderly family member, friend or neighbor)
  • Emergency services technician
  • Certified nurse assistant (CNA)
  • Certified medical technician (CMT)
  • Home health care aide
  • Hospice aide

Other Settings

  • Behavioral health technician (eating recovery center)
  • Diet technician – eating disorder (eating recovery center)
  • Mental health technician (residential treatment facility or addiction recovery center)
  • Behavioral crisis center technician (community mental or behavioral health center)
  • Psychiatric clinic technician (outpatient psychiatric clinic)
  • Detox technician (mental health or addiction recovery center)
  • Direct care aide (psychiatric hospital)
  • Applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapist (Autism-oriented organization, school or home)

Note: some of the above positions may require prior training/certifications. See the Clinical Training Certification Programs for PreMeds page to learn more. Job titles may vary from organization to organization.


Hospital/Clinic/Urgent Care/Personal Residence/Nursing Home/Hospice

  • Caregiver (ill or elderly family member, friend or neighbor)
  • Companionship to patient/resident and families
  • Mental health intake specialist
  • Family ambassadors/support
  • Patient support/room visits
  • Clinical research assistant
  • Medical interpreter
  • Virtual care calls
  • Life review
  • Child life
  • School room
  • Information desk
  • Staff support
  • Surgical reception
  • Waiting room attendant
  • Activity assistant
  • Medical interpreter
  • Medical scribe
  • Registration

Other Settings

  • Crisis text line worker
  • Crisis hotline worker
  • WashU Emergency Support Team (EST)
  • Summer camp (kids with health issues)
  • Mobile vision screening volunteer (e.g., KidSight)


Patience is important in the search process. It’s a must to employ a variety of strategies:

  • Ask your peers for referrals (students at your grade level and above, RAs, participate in healthcare-oriented student groups) – Have you heard about any opportunities? What are your plans? What have you done in the past?
  • Search Handshake  – our career management platform allows you to search for internships, jobs and events. Be sure to check out the videos and handouts on how to search for pre-health opportunities and employers, and to learn about pre-health job labels in Handshake.
  • Explore national job search platforms (SimplyHired, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor). In search fields, use specific job titles and relevant terms such as healthcare, premed and/or the name of an employer. If you’re not familiar with Glassdoor, it’s a free platform that allows you to search for job openings and reviews from current and former employees from various companies.
  • Create a target list of organizations located in your target cities. Search the internet using key words, such as “hospitals in X city,” “Federally Qualified Centers (FQHC),” “FQHC’s in X city.” A FQHC is a federally funded nonprofit health center or clinic that serve medically underserved areas and populations.
  • Check an organization’s website directly (hospital, clinic, hospice, etc.). If contact info is listed for the human resources (HR) department, don’t be afraid to email or call to ask questions.
  • Consider medical scribe roles. Search for this positions on national job search platforms or apply via a scribe placement agency.
  • Sign up with a staffing agency. Most cities have many staffing agencies that you can register with. Some are industry-specific and others deal with many different industries. You will likely need to provide a resume as well as copies of relevant certifications, and you may have to  interview or sit for typing speed tests. Conduct a Google search to find agencies in your target cities.
    • Don’t register with a company that requires job seekers to pay a fee. Use agencies that charge employers fees, not you. Also, do not rely solely on the agency to find a job. If you register with one, continue to use multiple search strategies. They may hire for contract/temporary, temp to hire and/or direct to hire.
      • Contract/temporary – The positions may be seasonal, short-term or long-term depending on client needs or your goals.
      • Temp to hire – You work for an employer on a trial basis to determine if the position and company are a good fit for your skills, interests and career goals. If so, you may become the client’s employee after a predetermined amount of time.
      • Direct hire – A client will outsource the initial recruiting and screening processes to staffing and then directly hire the preferred candidate.
  • Reach out to faculty directly – if you are interested in inquiring about a clinical research opportunities in their labs at WashU or other universities.
    • If you are unable to get sufficient clinical experience while you are a student, obtaining a clinical gap year experience is perfectly acceptable to medical schools.
  • Other university’s websites – Use key words to search for opportunities on the websites of other institutions located in your target city (“Emory university and premed clinical opportunities”)

How do you find volunteer opportunities?

Some of the strategies are similar to job search techniques. Here are some ideas:

  • Consider the WashU Emergency Support Team (EST), if you meet the eligibility criteria. They consider first-years (regardless of medical knowledge) and sophomores who have already obtained their EMT-B license .
  • Ask your peers for referrals (students at your grade level and above, RAs, participate in healthcare-oriented student groups) – Have you heard about any opportunities? What are your plans? What have you done in the past?
  • Check hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, city/county public health departments, and health-oriented nonprofits for volunteer opportunities. Many will have a volunteer section listed on their websites. If you doesn’t see any postings listed, it’s okay to call or email.
  • Search volunteer databases, such as:
  • Other university’s websites – Use key words to search for opportunities on the websites of other institutions located in your target city (“Emory university and premed clinical opportunities”)
  • Explore summer camps for kids with developmental disabilities, chronic Illnesses and injuries
  • Conduct Google keyword searches, for example – “clinical volunteer opportunities in X city or volunteer,” “cancer and X city” (if you are interested in cancer-related volunteer experiences, for instance)

Keep in mind that a combination of clinical and non-clinical experiences is appropriate for your application.

How do you find shadowing opportunities?

The key to finding a shadowing position is to persevere, go about it in an organized fashion, and begin efforts early. Below are some suggestions that you might find helpful in your search:

  • Look into WashU sponsored programs:
  • Connect with people you know directly or indirectly – your own physician(s); a friend, classmate or family member’s physician; a friend or classmate’s relative, who is a physician; acquaintances; family members and friends who work in healthcare setting and come in contact with physicians, for instance
  • Reach out to alumni via LinkedIn
  • Send a tailored, thoughtful message to a physician you don’t know via LinkedIn or email. Perhaps you’ve read their bio on their practice’s website or their profile on LinkedIn

Note: Aside from the above sponsored WashU programs, the university does not maintain a list of physicians that provide shadowing experiences.