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The Importance of Clinical Experiences for Pre-Med Students

Lauren DiProspero

Written by Lauren DiProsperoon January 19th, 2022

I began my undergraduate admissions career at Stanford University where I helped coordinate diversity events and outreach. This ignited a passion for higher education which led me to Columbia University where, after earning my masters, I began recruiting and reviewing the applications of students applying to Columbia College from all around the country including the northeast, mid-west, Texas and California. I also reviewed the applications of international students from countries across Asia as well as Canada and Mexico. During my time at Columbia, I was Director of Admissions at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons where I oversaw the entire medical school admissions process, including recruitment, application review, interview days, and admitted student events. From there I became the Director of Enrollment Management at the University of San Francisco where I oversaw a team that supported both undergraduate and graduate admissions. In that role I recruited in Southern California and reviewed applications from multiple domestic territories for the undergraduate admissions team. Most recently, I was the senior director at Stanford Medicine, where I again oversaw the entire medical school admissions process.
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The path to medical school is filled with a lot of requirements and expectations. Some may be obvious, like taking organic chemistry. Others, like clinical experiences, can feel a bit vague and their importance in the application is less understood. But clinical experience isn’t just a box to be checked; it plays an important role in your development as a future doctor and is an essential part of the medical school application. These valuable experiences need to start long before you apply to medical school. Let’s step back to talk about why clinical experiences are so important. If you’re considering medical school, I want you to ask yourself the following questions and answer with as much detail as possible, including examples to support those answers:
  • How do I know I want to be a doctor?
  • What is the doctor’s role on the healthcare team?
  • Do I like interacting with patients and being around sick people?
Clinical experiences go beyond confirming that medical school is the right path. They can help you articulate your answers to these questions, and more, whether in medical school application essays or during admission interviews. Now that we’ve established why clinical experiences are important, we can move on to what clinical experiences are so you can find the ones that fit you. The first clinical experience that often comes to mind is shadowing. This involves following a doctor in a healthcare setting such as an office, clinic, hospital, or operating room. It is a good first step in understanding the day-to-day job of a doctor, but you need to go beyond shadowing to deeper, longer-term clinical experiences. The good news is that there are a lot of ways to engage in a clinical setting! Keep in mind that exploring multiple opportunities is preferred so you can learn about different areas of medicine. Some of the opportunities below require a large time commitment in training and certification.
  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT)
  • Scribe
  • Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
  • Clinical research
  • Hotline or counseling volunteer
  • Volunteering – hospital, clinic, or hospice
  • Volunteering – illness-related summer camps or health screening organizations
The key is to be in the place where healthcare is happening. As you evaluate clinical opportunities, ask yourself: does this role take place where healthcare is being provided and will it help me confirm that medicine is the right field for me? One last tip: take time to write down what you did and reflect on your experiences in each role. This will help when it comes time to start your application. A little work now will go a long way later!

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