When pre-professional advisors emphasize the importance of “clinical experience”, we’re speaking of two types of activities – those that involve direct patient interaction as well as shadowing physicians (or other healthcare professionals). While an array of co-curricular experiences can make you a strong applicant to health professional school, 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 information regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and opportunities during this time, please visit our COVID-19 Information webpage.
Direct Patient Interaction
In addition to shadowing, 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, but are not limited to:
- volunteering in a hospital, community clinic, hospice care, emergency room, cancer center, veteran’s administration, etc., where you are assisting patients. You are not legally able to touch the patient (unless otherwise certified, such as an EMT, medical assistant, or nursing assistant).
- working in clinical research, where you are collecting information (consenting, health histories, etc.) from patients.
A sustained commitment to these activities is helpful to your health professional school application. 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 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.
Students are often curious about the best way to identify shadowing opportunities. The process for securing a shadowing experience will become harder in the months and years ahead as many hospitals are citing issues related to patient safety and confidentiality as the reasoning behind the declining number of available shadowing opportunities.
In order to secure a shadowing experience, you simply need to ask physicians if they will allow you to shadow them, and if they say yes, you’re good to go! That said, please note that every medical facility has unique policies and procedures governing the shadowing of their physicians. While some hospitals may prohibit shadowing, others may allow it as long as you fulfill their compliance requirements (ex: HIPAA training, immunizations up-to-date, etc.).
The following information will be helpful as you search for shadowing opportunities:
What is shadowing?
When we speak about “shadowing”, we are referring to observing. Shadowing can be applied to just about any profession, but shadowing a physician or other healthcare professional includes observing how the clinician spends his/her day, how they interact and communicate with patients, and how they work with a health care team. Added benefits of shadowing include the fact that it helps you determine if medicine is the right career choice for you, and when you apply to health professional school, it shows the admissions committee that you’ve taken the initiative to spend time inside a health care facility.
What to send to physicians when inquiring about shadowing opportunities
When you contact a physician regarding shadowing, there are two main elements to share with him/her:
- 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 (formerly Career Center) for guidance and assistance with developing a resume.
- Draft a paragraph that explains why you are interested in shadowing that particular physician. Include the fact that you are a pre-med or pre-health student studying at Johns Hopkins University, and that you have aspirations of working in health care. You should also include why you want to observe that particular physician or within that specific department.
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 and adhere to the PDF Document: guidelines issued by the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the American Dental Education Association (ADEA).
Please keep in mind that while experiences abroad can certainly be worthwhile experiences, the majority of your direct patient interaction and shadowing 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:
If you are interested in shadowing at Johns Hopkins Hospital,PDF Document: please read this information about the Student Observer Clinical Care Program.
- AAMC overview and guidelines for shadowing
- AACOM information for shadowing an osteopathic physician:
ADEA information for shadowing a dentist
If you are having difficulty obtaining direct patient interaction or securing shadowing opportunities, please feel free to schedule an appointment with a Pre-Professional advisor.