Clinical Exposure/Experience

When Pre-Professional advisors emphasize the importance of “clinical experience,” we’re speaking of two types of activities:

  1. direct patient interaction and
  2. shadowing physicians (or other healthcare professionals).

Clinical experience is critical to your pre-health portfolio, and health professional schools will expect to see clinical experiences reflected in your application. Though the tips discussed below are geared toward pre-medical students, similar suggestions and information can be applied across all the health professions.

For specific Baltimore area clinical opportunities throughout COVID-19, please refer to this document: Clinical Opportunities in Baltimore.fall22

Direct Patient Interaction

It is imperative that applicants have clearly defined experiences that provide them with direct patient interaction that demonstrate a commitment to patient care.

Direct patient interaction proves to medical schools (and yourself) that you are comfortable working in a clinical setting, assisting those who are ill, infirmed, hospitalized, dying, etc., and that you understand the other realities of working in healthcare.

Examples of direct patient interaction include:

  • volunteering in a hospital, community clinic, hospice care, emergency room, cancer center, veteran’s administration, etc., where you are assisting patients.
  • working in clinical research, where you are collecting information (consenting, health histories, etc.) from patients.
  • working as an EMT, CNA, medical assistant, scribe, or other similar clinical experience.

These experiences demonstrate strong interpersonal skills as a result of direct patient interaction, empathy, an interest in health care, and a commitment to issues surrounding patient care.

In addition, a sustained commitment to these activities is imperative to your health professional school application.

In order to identify experiences that provide direct patient interaction, you will need to start by conducting an online search of hospital volunteer offices, community clinics, other health care facilities, and clinical research labs. Allow yourself plenty of time to find an opportunity, since it can take a few weeks to receive a response to your inquiries.


Shadowing refers to observing a physician or other health provider.

  • When observing, pay attention to how the clinician spends his/her day, how s/he interacts and communicates with patients to build trust, and how s/he works with a health care team.
  • Shadowing demonstrates to admissions committees that you have taken the initiative to spend time inside a health care facility, and that you have taken steps to determine medicine is the right career choice for you.

What to send to physicians when inquiring about shadowing opportunities

When you contact a physician regarding shadowing, there are two main elements to share:

  • Your resume.
    • It is of utmost importance that this be clean, neat, and look professional.
    • We encourage all students to visit the JHU Life Design Lab for guidance and assistance with developing a resume.
  • A paragraph or two that explains why you are interested in shadowing that physician.
    • Include the fact that you are a pre-med or pre-health student studying at Johns Hopkins University, and that you aspire to working in health care.
    • You should also include why you want to observe that particular physician or within that specific department.

How to find shadowing

Think of where you can shadow (hospitals, community clinics, family physicians, etc.) and what areas are of interest to you (oncology, neurology, pediatrics, dermatology, etc.).

Then, email physicians in those areas to ask if you can shadow them for a few weeks or months.

Before starting any clinical experience, please inquire about compliance requirements, such as HIPAA training and immunization records. These precautions are in place for your safety as well as the safety of patients.

Additional suggestions and tips

Once you begin shadowing, keep these suggestions and tips in mind:

  • Be professional at all times. This includes arriving on time to each appointment, dressing professionally, and being courteous to everyone you meet.
  • Know your limits. You are not a medical professional, so do not expect to participate in hands-on patient care.
  • Keep a journal. On a regular basis, make notes about what you are observing and discovering in the clinic and with doctor-patient interaction. Include how all of this is meaningful to the overall experience of shadowing. This will be helpful when you apply to health professional school and need to reflect on these experiences in your application.
  • Shadowing does not (and should not) be limited to just one day, one week, or one doctor. There is no “magic” number of hours that you must obtain in order to be competitive for health professional school. We suggest shadowing multiple physicians in multiple settings over the course of your pre-med studies.

International Clinical Experiences

Students who plan to participate in clinical experiences abroad should review The Do’s and Don’ts of a Global Health Experience from the AAMC.

Please keep in mind that while experiences abroad can certainly be worthwhile, the majority of your clinical experiences should take place in the United States. Medical school admissions committees will want to know that you have observed and participated in the U.S. healthcare system.

For some additional perspectives, please review the following resources:

ADEA information for shadowing a dentist