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Atlantis students walking through the hallway of the hospital where they are shadowing (Genoa, Italy).

Applying to Med/PA School

Clinical Experience: Ranking 10 Types From the Least to Most Helpful: One Pre-Med’s View

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About Aldridge

Aldridge is a recent graduate of Indiana University and finished with a B.S. degree in Human Biology, as well as a Religious Studies minor. Aldridge is currently applying to med schools in his gap year and is planning to start his journey to become a physician in fall of 2022

Wait… Clinical Experience?

If you’re like many pre-med students, you may be wondering what clinical experiences are the most helpful and look the best to the medical schools you are applying to. While there is no end-all, be-all answer, there are certain experiences that many MD programs look for in an applicant that you should pick up to show your best qualities and get into your dream school. As a recently graduated pre-med from Indiana University, I’ve done many of these clinical experiences myself, including the unique, overseas shadowing experience that Atlantis provides to students. Through lessons that I’ve learned and countless conversations with other pre-meds, here is my comprehensive ranking for the 10 best types of clinical experiences before medical school:

10: Research Opportunities

Most consider research an important part of your application, but it takes on a different meaning in a clinical setting. You can get connected with private practices and hospitals to gain experience administering or observing tests for patients, like blood A1C and cholesterol. Overall this is very helpful in connecting with mentors, but there are more effective ways to see the ins and outs of healthcare.

9: Service-Research Projects (SRP’s)

Service-Research Projects are a great way to gain knowledge about the administrative side of healthcare, which is extremely important to the 4 basic tenets of medical ethics (for example, justice in care), which is something you’ll bear in mind for the rest of your medical career. Organizations like Atlantis have offered these opportunities even as COVID has presented its challenges in this past year.

8: Nursing Home/Hospice Volunteering

I’ve personally volunteered at 2 different nursing homes in my area and this clinical experience was amazing! Initially, my work was focused on talking to patients, helping them with transportation, and just being a friend to help brighten their days. After that, I was able to work more directly with the nurses stationed at the home, which gave me a great perspective on how their clinical role is different from what you may see. After all, as a physician, many of your patients are likely to be elderly so this is great practice for your personal skills and bedside manner!

7: Hotline Counseling

With the prevalence of COVID-19, more people are calling hotlines than ever with concerns about everything from minor daily stressors to expansive mental health issues. With a little bit of training you can be in a position to help callers reaching out for help. While there are courses aimed at teaching hotline counselors, other organizations accept volunteers and, although I haven’t been a counselor myself, I’ve heard from many other pre-meds that this is an excellent clinical experience to have!

6: COVID Specific Volunteer

Of course, the disease responsible for a pandemic and worldwide quarantines had to make a big appearance on this list. What that also means for you is that more people need help than ever! Through the organization RAM, I’ve been able to volunteer at a COVID testing site in the fall of 2020, and again at a vaccine distribution center in my local area. Helping out in these ways is a FANTASTIC way to build your interpersonal skills with the general public, as you’ll be directly helping them with technology issues, instructions on taking their test/vaccine, and even breaking some language barriers. Be sure to get connected with either your local volunteer network or the national RAM website and lend a helping hand!

5: Shadowing a Private Practice

Seeing the ins and outs of a private practice is a great way to get exposure to what you will likely be seeing on a daily basis as a physician. This is usually done by getting in contact through a mutual connection, but don’t be scared to ask your personal physician if you can shadow them! Doctors are typically very excited about young students wanting to enter the field, and they also understand that you need a certain amount of hours in clinical experience. Private practices also give you the opportunity to interact with nurses, who are obviously an extremely important part of a medical team. 

4: Becoming an EMT

Emergency medical technicians are on the front lines of a medical emergency. Being an EMT is a paid position and you will have to go through 120-150 hours of training before you take an exam to get certification to work. Becoming an EMT can be a fantastic clinical experience during a gap year, and many of my friends have chosen this path. Keep in mind that this job is generally relatively high stress, and while it can prepare you for the rigors of medicine, there are other ways to get experience without the training and long hours required to be an EMT.

3: Shadowing in a Hospital

Similar to #5 on this list, shadowing a physician who works in a hospital is an excellent clinical experience to have. One difference in shadowing at a hospital vs. a private practice though, is that a hospital will show you the daily hustle and bustle of a physician, while also giving you the same benefits of a private practice. As more physicians are transitioning to hospital work, this opportunity is great.

2: Atlantis Shadowing Abroad Program

I’ve personally been able to do a trip with Atlantis, and it was amazing to travel to Lisbon and Portugal, and shadow physicians throughout the three-week program. It allowed me all the same benefits of shadowing in a hospital (see #3) while also being exposed to the culture of a foreign country with people my same age. Here you are really combining the best of both worlds in terms of clinical and cultural experience, and there are so many options for countries to travel to and times of the year to go!

1: Medical Scribe

Medical scribing is another fantastic way to see what is needed of a physician every day. Here you will be taking notes on patient visits that will help physicians move through their charting more efficiently. This allows them to see more patients, and really thrusts you into being an essential member of a medical team, which is a feeling that is unmatched. This clinical experience has a training process through ScribeAmerica and you will be set up with a local hospital after successfully passing your training exam and interviewing!

Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.

Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook guidebook — download yours.

Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

John Daines headshot.

John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
  • Brigham Young University '19
  • Washington U. in St. Louis MD '23
Zoey Petitt headshot.

Zoey Petitt

  • Atlantis '17
  • U. of Arizona '18
  • Duke MD '23
Yong hun Kim headshot.

Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
  • Stanford '19
  • Mayo Clinic MD '24
Megan Branson headshot.

Megan Branson

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Montana '19
  • U. of Washington MD '24
Sarah Emerick headshot.

Sarah Emerick

  • Atlantis '19
  • Eckerd College '20
  • Indiana U. MD '25
Snow Nwankwo headshot.

Snow Nwankwo

  • Atlantis '19
  • Catholic U. of America '21
  • Georgetown U. MD '26
Tiffany Hu headshot.

Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
  • U. of Michigan MD '22
Lauren Cox headshot.

Lauren Cox

  • Atlantis '18
  • Louisiana Tech '20
  • U. of Arkansas MD '24
Kayla Riegler headshot.

Kayla Riegler

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Kentucky '20
  • U. of Kentucky MD '24

About Atlantis

Atlantis is the leader in pre-health shadowing and clinical experience, offering short-term programs (1-10 weeks) over academic breaks for U.S. pre-health undergraduates. Medical schools want 3 things: (1)healthcare exposure, (2)GPA/MCAT, and (3)certain competencies. Atlantis gives you a great version of (1), frees you to focus on (2), and cultivates/shows (3) to medical school admissions committees.

A student smiling and learning how to kayak.

Watch Video: The Atlantis Shadowing Experience and How it Helps In Your Med/PA Admissions Future

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Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.