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What is clinical experience (and how do I get it)?

Find out what you need for medical school and beyond...

By Thom Brown | 01st July, 2024
Updated on 17th July, 2024

Are you a pre-med or medical student seeking a career in healthcare? You've probably heard you need clinical experience (or ‘clinical exposure’) to succeed in medicine.

But what exactly does clinical experience mean and how do you get it? Let’s explore this along with the best ways to immerse yourself in the world of healthcare.

Getting the most from your clinical work experience – in terms of both quality and quantity –  will be crucial for your future success in medicine. It is also an essential factor in your medical school application.

So let’s jump in with the basics…

What is clinical experience?

While ‘clinical exposure’ involves shadowing doctors on their rounds, ‘clinical experience’ goes a little further. It involves actively engaging in patient care and medical practice.

When it comes to finding the best clinical experience for med school, here’s what you should look for.

Practical experience

Seek out opportunities to apply theoretical ‘textbook’ knowledge in real-world settings. This can involve tasks like organising patient files, checking blood pressure, or testing for diseases. Like any profession, the more you practice, the better you get.

Start early to quickly build up hours of experience. This proves your commitment to a career in medicine – exactly what’s needed to confirm the choice you’ve made (or are making) about going into the medical profession.

Soft skill development

Beyond medical knowledge, clinical experience helps you cultivate a diverse skill set, including all of the AAMC Core Competencies. You'll develop a range of qualities, such as empathy, cultural humility, teamwork, and service orientation.

These competencies are crucial to success when applying for medical school. So, make sure the clinical experience you land maximises opportunities to build soft skills.

Patient interaction

Interacting with patients allows you to develop interpersonal skills, an important aspect of patient care. Building rapport, communicating effectively, and showing empathy are crucial skills that can only be honed through direct interaction.

Clinical exposure for pre-med students allows you to quickly pick up how doctors interact with their patients. Go further by participating in medical outreaches and start communicating with patients directly. It’s the only way to develop that all-important bedside manner.

Medical interns abroad

What is early clinical exposure?

During your studies, you may have come across the term early clinical exposure (ECE). This refers to programs that provide pre-med students with experience in hospital settings early in their academic journey.

They’re designed to familiarize you with the realities of medical practice. This will help you develop crucial competencies from the outset.

Why is early clinical exposure good?

There are several reasons why you should be seeking ECE:

Real-world context

ECE offers a glimpse into the reality of healthcare. You’ll witness firsthand the challenges, rewards, and complexities of patient care.

Early exposure aligns academic learning with clinical practice, providing context to theoretical knowledge.

Career exploration

By exposing you to various medical specialties early on, ECE allows you to explore different career paths.

This exploration can help you clarify your interests and aspirations. The sooner you figure out what you want to do, the sooner you can get on the path to success.

Skill development

Engaging in medical work early gives you more time to build skills and professional competencies.

Early skill development lays a solid foundation for future clinical training. This means you’ll be ready to thrive once enrolled in medical school.

Young medical interns

Why is clinical experience important?

Clinical experience plays a pivotal role in your education and professional development. If you want to become a medical professional, then there’s no getting away from it: you need experience.

Here are the benefits of getting good-quality clinical experience:

  • Action over textbooks: Bridge the gap between theory and practice by applying theoretical knowledge in real-world healthcare settings. Practical learning is essential for understanding the nuances of patient care.

  • Build your skills: The only way to develop skills as a physician is by doing. Skills like checking blood pressure or testing for malaria are crucial. Speed up your learning under the guidance of experienced healthcare professionals.

  • Interpersonal growth: Beyond clinical skills, experience also fosters the development of your bedside manner. Communication, empathy, and cultural competence help build strong relationships with your patients.

  • Career preparation: Clinical experience provides insight into the realities of a career in medicine, so you can make informed decisions about your path. Exposure to different specialties and healthcare settings will guide your career choices.

  • Professionalism and ethics: Experience also reinforces professional conduct. You’ll learn to navigate ethical dilemmas, uphold patient confidentiality, and adhere to professional standards. This will put you in good stead for any upcoming challenges.
Gain clinical work experience in a hospital abroad

Why should I gain medical experience abroad?

Your medical journey is not just about mastering anatomy or committing long words and many facts to memory. It's also about embracing the diversity of humanity.

While your local hospital might provide work experience (if you’re lucky), have you ever considered the wealth of opportunities awaiting you abroad?

Gaining pre-med clinical experience abroad can open doors to a world of discovery. Whether you're drawn to the bustling streets of a metropolis, the serene landscapes of a rural village, or the vibrant culture of a distant land, there's a vast world waiting to be explored.

Learn more: Why do a pre-med in the developing world >

Which countries offer the best opportunities for pre-med students?

The world is your oyster when it comes to seeking clinical experience. Explore what we can offer — take a look at our Pre-Med Programs or keep scrolling for an overview of where we work. 

We have programs on three continents. Each one comes with a unique set of healthcare challenges plus opportunities for personal growth and exploration.

Where we work:

  • Peru: Wander the ancient cobblestone streets of Cusco as you shadow physicians among the awe-inspiring Andes. Learn about conditions unique to South America before taking a bucket-list trip to Machu Picchu!

  • Nepal: Become immersed in the spiritual lifestyle of Kathmandu. Support healthcare workers in busy hospitals and join medical outreaches in the foothills of the majestic Himalayas.

  • Tanzania: Experience the rush of a busy Arusha hospital, then contrast this with the vast serenity of a safari in the steppe. Plus, immerse yourself in Maasai culture and provide medical checks to rural residents.

  • Greece: Work with top medical professionals in a modern but under-resourced European hospital. During your time off, explore this ancient city where much of Western medicine, including the Hippocratic Oath, originated.


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