Advice for pre-medical students
The University of Washington School of Medicine recognizes that the pathway to medicine is a journey, one that comes with great meaning and great challenges along the way. Clinical experiences are an important way for applicants to gain a richer understanding of medicine and can help ground an applicant’s decision to apply to medical school before investing considerable time and money. When considering clinical experiences, our admissions committee is looking to understand what applicants have learned about medicine and about themselves. The quality of the reflection on your experiences in your application tells the committee far more about your understanding of medicine than the quantity of hours you have accumulated.
Why clinical experiences are important
- Find out more about the life/role of a physician
- Clarify and validate initial impressions of a career in medicine
- Understand the realities/limitations of medicine
- Learn about the patient experience and understand the impact of a physician
- Determine level of commitment
- Discover likes and dislikes
- Enhance motivation
- Improve the articulation of goals
What is a clinical experience?
The UWSOM Admissions Committee considers clinical experiences as those experiences in which an individual observes and/or gains insight into one or more aspects of direct clinical care. Some part of your preparation for medicine should include observing or interfacing with physicians, so you may develop a clear understanding of the role and unique position of a physician relative to other members of the health care team. In the past, we recommended 40 hours of shadowing to our applicants. We no longer specifically recommend shadowing—rather, we recognize that shadowing is not an available opportunity to all and applicants can learn about the medical field and the unique role of a physician in other meaningful ways.
Some examples of clinical and other exploratory experiences
- Volunteering in roles that allow a person to observe or participate in one or more aspect(s) of the clinical care experience
- Shadowing (in-person or virtual)
- Clinical research (e.g., serving as a research coordinator or part of a core study team)
- Patient care roles that interface with physicians (including but not limited to CNA, dialysis tech, EKG tech, EMT, medical assistant, patient advocate, phlebotomist, etc.)
- Medical interpretation
- Some experiences do not necessarily interface with physicians in a healthcare setting but can be valuable as part of your overall exploration of medicine (i.e., could supplement the above, but should not be your only clinical experience)
- Caring for ill relatives
- Direct interviewing of a physician (who is not a family member) to understand what life as a physician is like
- Volunteering in roles that may not be in clinical care, but may give insight into the medical system more generally
Applicants must demonstrate to the Admissions Committee what they have learned from their experiences in their application and interview. One of the top pitfalls of unsuccessful applicants is not articulating how clinical experiences shaped your understanding of medicine or strengthened your desire to pursue a career as a physician. We recommend reflecting during and after these clinical experiences. We have heard from current medical students that journaling can be a helpful tool.
Questions to ask yourself when reflecting on clinical experiences
- What are the joys and frustrations of this career?
- Can I see myself doing what this doctor does on a daily basis?
- Can I see myself as a part of this healthcare team?
- How does a doctor learn more about patients' personal lives? How is this knowledge factored into the patients' care?
- How does the doctor relate to the patients? How did patients respond to the doctor?
- What factors seem to play into how the patients respond to the medical professionals?
- Did all patients with the same diagnosis seem the same? If not, how and why might they have been different from one another?
- What did the doctor do when they did not know the answer to something?
- What is the role of a doctor in addressing health inequities?
- How did the doctor demonstrate leadership?
- Why might doctors experience burnout? How did COVID-19 impact medical practice?
- How does a doctor contribute to their community?