Clinical Experiences

How do you know you want to be a physician, a dentist, a veterinarian, a pharmacist, or another health care professional? 

Health professions schools value and expect clinical awareness from their applicants. If you haven’t been "inside the walls" – where you interacted with patients and participated in healthcare delivery – your application will not be viewed seriously. Professional schools may feel skepticism about your motivation and understanding of the vocation to which you aspire.  

Experience in the clinical setting -- whether volunteer or paid -- is critical in helping you determine whether pursuing a health profession is right for you.

You can gain clinical experience in a variety of settings:

  • hospitals and medical centers
  • community health centers and clinics
  • private practices
  • mobile clinics
  • nursing homes
  • hospices

Build Your Portfolio

Health professions schools expect the applicants to have thoughtfully explored their interests through meaningful in-depth experiences over time. In your application, you’ll need to demonstrate continuous dedication to exploring your intended profession. Reflect on your experiences as you go -- so you can be proactive and purposeful about building your portfolio of clinical experiences.   
Observing/shadowing clinicians in your intended profession and interacting with patients in a clinical setting will provide you with a deeper understanding of the field, its rewards, risks, and challenges. You will also develop a wide variety of "soft skills"  like communication, teamwork, adaptability, cross-cultural competency, and reliability. 

Why It Matters

When you observe or shadow a health care professional, you see what health care is like for that provider, and can imagine yourself in his or her shoes. You'll learn what their day-to-day responsibilities are like, and observe how they communicate with patients and interact with their colleagues. You'll get a sense of the rewards and challenges of the profession.

If you are able to shadow a few different specialists, do so! You will be able to learn from each one, and gain insight into what interests you. 

By interacting directly with patients, you begin to gain an appreciation of what health care is like from the patient's perspective. You may learn about challenges of getting timely appointments, or coping with chronic illnesses, stress and anxiety – hardships you might not have known about before. Many students work with patients for more than one semester.  

You may find that you genuinely enjoy helping individuals who are sick... or you may find that you do not, and this can help you to re-evaluate your career goals.

Geisinger HELP Program

Students who want to volunteer at Geisinger Community Medical Center can get involved through the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP) initiative.  The primary mission of this program is to connect elderly patients with volunteers and other health care personnel to provide personal and supportive attention and minimize the impact of decreased mobility or cognitive impairment.   

Other Opportunities for Direct Patient Care

Outside of volunteering, you can gain direct patient care experience by becoming certified and working as an emergency medical technician (EMT) or certified nursing assistant (CNA). Some health professions schools (for example, physician assistant programs) require that applicants have a minimum number of paid patient-care hours. Check with individual schools for specific requirements.    

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