How many hours of clinical experience do I need?

I get asked this question a lot. And my answer is this: I don’t know.

The reason I don’t know is because there is no magic number that medical schools require. Sure, there are some medical school applicants who have little to no clinical experience, which is problematic. But I can’t tell you 100 hours is enough. Nor can I tell you 400 hours is enough.

Consider this scenario:

You volunteered in a hospital emergency department for all four years of college. Volunteering four years sounds impressive! But you had 100 hours of volunteering over the course of those four years, which is an average of 25 hours/year. That is not much of an hourly time commitment when viewed over four years.

Here’s another scenario:

You volunteered full-time over the summer at a hospital emergency department, 40 hours/week, for 10 weeks. That’s 400 hours, which might sound like a lot. But if that’s your only clinical volunteering, and it’s all condensed into one summer, it’s not much of a long-term commitment to the organization or community. 

If you’re unsure whether you have enough clinical experience, start by asking yourself these questions:

  • Are you working or volunteering in a clinical setting? Examples and settings include hospitals, community clinics, EMT, medical assistant, scribing, clinical research, etc.
  • Are you getting direct patient interaction, where you are working and/or communicating with patients?
  • Does your time volunteering or working demonstrate commitment and longevity?
  • What have you learned about patient care and clinical settings as a result of the experience?
  • Do you have shadowing as well as clinical volunteering or work?

Let’s discuss your clinical experiences as part of a holistic review at your next appointment.