Experiential Learning (Preparing to Apply to Health Profession Schools)

This resource is an overview of ways that you can gain:

We will also discuss finding summer opportunities.

Clinical Experience

Clinical experience serves a dual purpose. First, it gives you insight into your future profession to ensure that you understand your the career. Second, it demonstrates to admissions committees that you have a passion for healthcare. Clinical experience typically consists of direct interactions with patients, as well as shadowing a practitioner in your field of interest. Direct patient interaction does not need to be at a skilled level; many students volunteer with a hospital, clinic or hospice to gain experience. 

Some health professions schools (such as dental, optometry and podiatry) will require specific documentation of a minimum number of hours of participation in clinical experiences and/or a letter of recommendation from a health professional in the field. Look carefully at the clinical requirements for admission before applying.

If you plan to volunteer abroad in a healthcare setting, first review AAMC's Guidelines for Premedical and Medical Students Providing Patient Care During Clinical Experiences Abroad.

  • Use your personal and professional network to connect with doctors, starting with your own caregivers. 
  • Connect with Wellesley alumnae on The Wellesley Hive and LinkedIn.
  • Ask your peers who have family member who are health care providers for introductions.
  • Check for Job Postings in Handshake; apply to positions that will connect you with health care providers.
  • Volunteer at places where patients are seen: emergency rooms, clinics, shelters, hospitals, mental health facilities, hospice, nursing homes, orphanages, pharmacies, etc. Often once you’ve proven yourself and have gained the trust of the administrators, you can request shadowing opportunities.
  • If you’re working in a lab, ask members of the lab community who are clinicians if you can shadow them in the clinical setting.
  • Work as a medical scribe
  • Work as a clinical research coordinator

When you initially contact a healthcare provider, you may want to consider requesting an informational interview first. At the interview you can ask about the possibility of shadowing as a next step. Here is an example email: 

Dear ______________________,

I am a sophomore at Wellesley College majoring in ___________________. I hope to pursue a career as a  _________________.  I am very interested in speaking with (career: physicians, nurses, etc.) about their career journeys. I was referred to you by ______________. Would it be possible for me to come to your office and have a brief conversation with you about your experiences as a  __________________? I will be returning to ______________ on November ____ and was hoping we could arrange an appointment sometime around then.

I have attached my resume in case it would be of help to you.

I look forward to hearing from you!


Alwasy go to an informational interview with questions about the career.

  • What is a typical day like for you?
  • What do you find most satisfying in your career? Most challenging?
  • Why did you choose this career? If you had to choose it again, would you?
  • What do you think are the challenges of the profession today? In the future?
  • What other experiences would you suggest I pursue before applying?

Direct Patient Experience

There are many ways to gain direct patient interaction. Experiences can be paid or volunteer, full-time over the summer or after graduation, or part time during the academic year.  Potential paid positions include:  clinical research assistant, emergency medical technician (EMT), certified nurses aid (CNA), medical scribe, mental health counselor or medical assistant. Volunteer serve in areas such as: emergency rooms, clinics, shelters, hospitals, mental health facilities, hotlines, hospice, and nursing homes. 

  1. Newton-Wellesley Hospital tiered program. For more information, contact Lauren Lele, Director Community Benefits and Volunteer Services, Newton-Wellesley Hospital Volunteer Office at llele@partners.org. (Transportation options including driving, carpooling, using taxi/Uber, or taking the MetroWest bus which runs Monday-Friday.)
  2. Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) Patient Activities Program offered through Wellesley Civic Engagement. The Stacy Kirkpatrick House (SKH) is a step-down respite facility that welcomes homeless patients recovering from surgeries, long-term treatments, and other ailments. SKH offers 20 medical respite beds and is run by BHCHP nurses and operations staff. Volunteers will work with BHCHP staff to plan and implement patient activities. Transportation and Federal Work Study are available through Civic Engagement. 
  3. Area hospitals including: Massachusetts General HospitalBoston Children’s HospitalBrigham and Women’s HospitalSpaulding Rehabilitation Network, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Cambridge HospitalMt. Auburn Hospital, Floating Hospital for Children, Boston Medical Center, Tufts Medical Center and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute all have structured volunteer programs. Look at volunteer websites and compare opportunities and requirements.
  4. Wellesley Funded Internships - deadlines may be as early as November, so apply early!
  5. International volunteering in global health - first review Global Ambassadors for Patient Safety online workshop. Then look for a non-profit organization such as Child Family Health International (CFHI).
  6. Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC) Become a Hotline Counselor or a Medical Advocate for survivors of sexual violence. Hotline Counselors provide crisis counseling and resources over the telephone for survivors and their significant others. Medical Advocates meet survivors at the hospital following a sexual assault 24-hours a day. They provide as much support and information as needed by the survivor and any significant others who may be with them throughout the time the survivor is in the emergency room. 
  7. Volunteer with a senior citizen through FriendshipWorksNewton Wellesley Center for Alzheimer's Care, Mary Ann Morse Healthcare CenterBeaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Care - call and ask about volunteer opportunities at the nursing homes.

Look at the Volunteer Opportunities sections for more options.

Service Experience

Medicine is a service profession. All health professions programs will want to see evidence of a service orientation. Community service not only enables you to help others, it provides you with insights into personalities, socioeconomic forces, diversity issues, power struggles, resource management, and ethical and moral questions. Through service, you will develop compassion and empathy, function as an advocate and will grow as a person and future health professional. Commitment can offer leadership opportunities and may take your career in a direction you had not anticipated.

Research Experience

Research allows you to ask questions outside the formal classroom; to be curious, inventive, and creative, and to engage in a particular subject in great detail. Many health care practitioners are involved with research over their career. Medical schools expect that you will have research experience before applying; if you are thinking of applying for a combined PhD program, you must have significant research experience to be a competitive applicant. While other professions don't require research, it will expand your skillset and make your application stand out.

There are many ways to engage in research. For example, you may be involved in scientific research either in a laboratory or as part of a clinical trial with patients. You can participate in research outside of the sciences. You may volunteer your time, get paid, or receive course credit. Your research may lead to a senior honors thesis, a job opportunity, and/or a career path you didn't anticipate.

Opportunities abound here at Wellesley, at MIT, in area think tanks, medical centers, non-profit organizations, internships, fellowships, and more. 

  • Find student research and funding opportunities through the Science Center
  • Participate in an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) at MIT 
  • Ask a professor whose course you enjoyed if there are any opportunities for research with him/her
  • Look for research opportunities on the Career Education Funded Internship page and on the Fellowships & Scholarships page
  • Interested in doing research in a specific area of study? Google the topic along with “research in the Boston area” (or wherever you want the opportunity to be). If you find someone who is exploring something interesting, contact him/her and see if he/she would be willing to talk with you.
  • Look at Wellesley Ruhlman Conference programs and abstracts to learn about what past students have researched
  • Visit our resource on Finding Summer Opportunities
  • Ask Wellesley College students and alums about the research opportunities they found
  • Look for a research position in summers or after graduation on the Career Education Jobs section in Handshake


Finding Summer Opportunities

Plan ahead and use your summers wisely. Summers are a great time to enhance your experiential learning, including clinical, research and service experiece.  Below are resources to help you begin your search for summer opportunities. Some internships have application deadlines as early as the fall, so be proactive and start looking now. Remember to look at:

  • Deadlines: When does the application open? When does it close? Read all directions and complete the application materials carefully. If you need help with cover letters and resumes, use resources and make an appointment with your College Career Mentor for additional coaching.
  • Expenses: Will the program cover some or all of your costs, such as travel and housing? Consider applying for a Career Education Grant if you need support.
  • Stipends/Pay: Will you be paid for some or all of the summer? If so, how much? When?
  • Housing: Do you need to find your own accommodations or will housing be provided?


Begin Your Search

The list of programs and opportunities below is not exhaustive and is subject to change. Please let us know if you find broken links so we can update this resource.

  • Career Education Internships: On the Internships and Grants page, there is information about a wide variety of internships; some signature programs and some that are co-sponsored by Career Education and Wellesley academic departments. Watch for deadlines beginning in the fall!
  • PreHealth Internship Database: Internship ideas gathered by Health Professions Peer Career Mentors (to access, make sure you are signed into your myWellesley, and logged out of other google accounts).
  • Career Education Grants: Have an idea for a summer experience for which you need funding? Apply for a Career Education Grant to help you pay for your expenses. Even if you don’t have the planning finalized, you can apply for grant money. Watch for deadlines!
  • The Jobs Section on Handshake: New jobs are posted every day in a wide variety of areas. Many of these are summer positions.
  • Look into Civic Engagement at Wellesley College
  • Network to find possible opportunities! Use family, friends, mentors, and find Wellesley alumnae on The Wellesley Hive and LinkedIn.

Interested in a clinical/clinical research opportunity?

Interested in a research opportunity?

Opportunities Related to Healthcare including Public Health

Summer Camps for Children with Medical Challenges