Upping Your Patient Contact Hours

One can't really quantify the rewards of touching a patient's life and helping them to heal.

However, our contact on the admissions committee of a local UC tells us that her medical school is now looking for applicants who have at least 100-150 patient contact hours!

Across the country, pre-meds are being encouraged by their advisors to accumulate at least 100 hours of patient contact to meet these kinds of revised requirements; different medical schools, of course, will have different interests, and we encourage you to contact individual admissions offices to find out how strongly their medical schools emphasize clinical experience in the applications they receive.

Why is patient contact so important?

  • Directly interacting with patients and their families helps develop:
  • Self-management, problem-solving and coping skills
  • Ethical behavior and professionalism
  • Interpersonal skills and teamwork
  • Clinical knowledge and technical skill
  • Empathy and genuinely altruistic motivation

Admissions committees want evidence that you are ready to assume responsibility for helping or taking care of others-and frankly, that you are the type of person who derives satisfaction from providing service. Just as important, they would prefer that the students they admit have already had a taste of the physical and emotional demands of this profession. They are figuring that a few months in a clinical environment will weed out pre-meds who have a latent squeamishness about dealing with patients and their bodies, as well as those who tend to glamorize the profession. Medical schools are looking for applicants whose realistic expectations about medicine have not canceled out their passion.

What constitutes good patient contact?

Try to seek out roles in clinical environments that allow you to provide care to patients and to observe physicians firsthand. Examples include:

  • Volunteer experience in hospital or clinic - all hospitals have a volunteer services office.
  • Volunteering in nursing home as an aide; hospice volunteer
  • EMT - classes leading to certification are often offered at community colleges.
  • Phlebotomist/ Blood Gas Technician - requires training and certification.
  • Certified Nurses Aid (CNA)/Home Health Aid (HHA) - requires training and certification, but has the benefit of a CNA salary.

Other roles requiring intensive patient contact include: medic, first responder, lifeguard, athletic trainer, volunteering with a mobile clinic (e.g. Flying Samaritans), dorm health worker/peer health counselor, etc. You may also be able to cite experience with dentistry, veterinary medicine, optometry, podiatry, physical therapy, etc. (though you must articulate how this experience is applicable to your goal of becoming a physician. For example a dental hygienist salary is high enough in some regions to beg the question of why you want to change careers.).

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