How to Get Clinical Experience
June 17, 2020
How to Get Clinical Experience
Medical school admissions committees like to see that applicants have spent time becoming familiar with the actual practice of medicine. Clinical shadowing has become a popular way to assess a desire to practice medicine. However, students may have difficulty finding opportunities to shadow physicians for a variety of reasons including the increasing privacy regulations around protected health information and lack of access to physicians to shadow. If you’re wondering how to get clinical experience without breaching privacy laws, know that there are alternative ways to gain experience around patients and in healthcare settings.
In this blog, we elaborate on how to get clinical experience that will provide healthcare exposure, patient contact, and, in some instances, some extra money to fund your future medical education. Since most of these occur in healthcare settings and may include direct patient interactions, they often require a commitment to a training program, certification, and licensure.
Becoming an EMT can be a long and labor intensive process, but it can also be incredibly rewarding in terms of skills for those wondering how to get clinical experience. Requirements will vary from state to state. In general you need to be 18 years old, pass an EMT course, and not have a criminal background. There are four recognized levels of training ranging from 58 hours of training as an Emergency Medical Responder to 1200 hours of training to become a paramedic. Once you’ve completed your training course you will need to take a certifying examination. Depending on your state you may take the National Registry exam or a state specific exam to become certified (46 states use the NREMT certification which is a private certifying agency). The next step is to obtain and maintain a license through your state agency and find work as an EMT.
The National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation keeps a current list of college campuses that have their own ambulance service. If you are lucky enough to be on one of those campuses you should be able to find out more information by contacting your ambulance service. If you do not have a college ambulance service, you can find your state EMS office here. EMTs can be volunteer positions, or may be paid with a salary that ranges from $9-$20/hr.
Scribes serve as a “personal assistant” to the practicing physician by following them during clinical encounters and documenting a medical history and exam in the electronic medical record. This is “shadowing” but with a job to get done. Scribes are still primarily based in emergency departments or hospital settings, but are moving more and more into private practice settings. There is NO direct patient contact for the scribe, though theywill witness many patient-physician encounters and learn documentation skills and requirements. Scribes also have direct experience with some of the challenges in healthcare administration and practice today. They may be asked to keep track of lab results, radiologic findings, and discharge and admission notes.
As you plan how to get clinical experience, you should know that scribing has become increasingly common among medical students. Of course, no medical extracurricular is bad per se — but your time might be better spent in a pursuit where you play a more active role.
Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA)
A certified nursing assistant is a direct member of the healthcare team. Generally, a CNA will work under the direction of a nurse (RN or LPN/LVN). A CNA provides hands-on basic nursing care to patients in a variety of health care settings. CNA’s typically obtain vital signs, weights and height measurements and enter these in the clinical chart. Depending on the setting/specialty they may also assist with basic nursing tasks such as bathing, dressing, and helping out people who cannot do these tasks alone. Generally a CNA is required to have a high school diploma or GED. Again, requirements for CNA vary state by state, though there is usually a 75-hour training course and a state assessment such as the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program.
CNAs work in almost any medical setting including the emergency department, nursing homes, orthopedic offices, operating rooms, and cardiac cath labs. The best way to find out more about your local options may be to contact a nearby community college or nursing program, or the hospital itself.
If you’re looking into how to get clinical experience while perfecting your communication skills, you might be interested in being a phlebotomist. Phlebotomists are the technicians that draw blood. They need to know everything about drawing blood, handling needles, tubes, and bags and other equipment and regulations associated with blood collection. This role does allow you to interact with patients and gather information from them. Depending on the setting you may be working on your own, or you may be working side by side with physicians, such as in a hospital setting. Phlebotomy training can be a little less structured depending on the setting. Some places will provide on-the-job training, other institutions may require that you take a training course, which can sometimes be found at a local community college or technical school.
Medical interpreters do not provide direct clinical care, however, they are present during a physician-patient encounter and help facilitate the relationship. Medical schools appreciate students who speak multiple languages and have experience using their abilities in a medical setting. However, familiarity with a language is not sufficient for being a medical interpreter. You need to be proficient in the language, have an in-depth knowledge of the culture, and strong interpersonal skills. You must also be familiar with medical terminology in both English and the second language, and be able to maintain an impartial and objective position when interpreting. You can work in a variety of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, surgical centers and mental health care facilities. The average pay will be dependent on experience and will range between $10-$35/hr.
Volunteering at a Hospital/Clinic
While the above suggestions on how to get clinical experience are more focused on paid work, if you can afford it — or have spare time alongside a paid job — volunteering at a hospital or clinic can also help you gain access to patients in some units. Spending time volunteering can give you an idea of the structure and culture within a unit of the hospital over time. You’ll have the chance to interact with doctors, nurses, and technicians, and, depending on the unit, you may have the opportunity to interact directly with patients and their families. As a hospital volunteer, you can also pick up skills that are useful in a prospective physician, such as communication, empathy, and confidence. As you continue to volunteer, you will become a familiar face around the unit and may even form connections with your local medical community. This may lead to the start of other opportunities that help boost your applications, such as research assistantships or publication prospects.
Work with Various Patient Populations
Finally, you can look beyond just the usual hospitals and clinics as you research how to get clinical experience. A longer-term active opportunity to work with a person or a group of people who are ill and need help can develop your clinical skills as you observe how they are treated, as well as understand their needs and support them. Some potential ways you can do so include:
- Work at a camp for children with medical needs, such as a camp for diabetic kids
- Volunteer at an assisted living facilities and work with elders who have Alzheimer’s
- Volunteer at a hospice; see how care providers interact with patients and their families
- Volunteer at a hospital or clinic abroad if you’re traveling during a gap year
- Volunteer at protests as an emergency medic
As you think about how to get clinical experience, remember that admissions committees focus less on what you’ve done and more towards how it has shown your commitment towards medicine and what your takeaway has been from patient interaction. Once you’ve found an activity, take the time to reflect on what you’re learning and how the work is preparing you to thrive as a medical student and articulate how you’ve grown in your AMCAS application. Happy searching!