Learn about the variety of clinical internships, the importance of clinical rotations, and tips for navigating state-specific requirements to become a competent and patient-centered healthcare professional.

Getting a license to practice medicine in the United States is contingent on one critical requirement: clinical experience. It is the basis that ensures physicians, physician assistants, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are adequately trained to handle the complexities of patient care.

Each state has its own postgraduate training requirements. For domestic graduates, a year of practical training might suffice. However, international graduates may need up to three years of clinical training. This intense period of learning ensures that medical professionals are proficient in applying their skills in real healthcare environments.

The criteria set by each state reflect a careful consideration of various factors, including exam completion times, the allowable number of exam attempts, and specific conditions for those re-entering the field or applying from abroad for the first time.

In this article, we explore the importance of clinical experience: the state-specific requirements, the link between clinical experience and healthcare quality, and how to obtain the necessary experience for licensure.

Understanding the Clinical Experience Requirements

“Clinical experience” may not adhere to a one-size-fits-all description, but it typically entails being hands-on in a medical facility, interacting closely with patients. For undergrads aiming for medical school, this vital experience typically comes in three flavors: shadowing professionals, volunteering, and tackling internships or research projects.

When it comes to postgraduate training, stepping into a residency and potentially a fellowship becomes the next crucial stage, where medical graduates immerse themselves deeper in their chosen specialties, honing their skills through extensive clinical practice and research under close supervision.

Obtaining clinical experience is also critical when applying for a residency position. Clinical experience earned throughout medical school, such as via clerkships and electives, offers hands-on experience with patient care that is required for both admission to and success in residency programs. It not only indicates your dedication and enthusiasm for medicine, but it also tells residency program leaders that you have a solid grasp of caring for patients, can work successfully in a team environment, and have begun to acquire the practical skills required for your medical future.

For premeds, 100 to 150 hours of clinical experience is a good goal. However, for initial licensing, the game changes dramatically. The state requirements vary widely, with some states asking for less than a year, or no additional hours at all, while others may demand up to three years of clinical work.

The link between clinical hours and the quality of healthcare provided is layered. A deep dive into this topic, pulling insights from databases like MEDLINE and PubMed, reveals a mixed bag of findings. About 43% of studies suggest a positive impact of clinical experience on healthcare quality, especially in surgical areas where precision and quick decision-making are paramount. This implies that hands-on experience is crucial for enhancing patient safety and outcomes in high-stakes environments.

However, it’s not all cut and dry. While 35% of studies didn’t find a clear link, 22% even suggested a negative impact. This variety of outcomes highlights the complex dance between experience and healthcare delivery. It shows how clinical experience, while vital, is just one piece of the puzzle, intertwined with ongoing education, the embrace of new technologies, and the dynamics of team-based care.

clinical experience

Navigating State-Specific Clinical Experience Requirements

The path to obtaining a medical license is nuanced, with requirements varying significantly by state and medical board. This diversity in prerequisites places a significant emphasis on clinical experience as an essential component of medical licensing.

In addition to the changing timeframe requirements we briefly mentioned before, certain jurisdictions mandate the successful completion of the licensing examination sequence at specific stages of postgraduate training, adding another layer of regulatory oversight.

The initiation of postgraduate training often represents the first formal interaction between prospective physicians and state medical boards. During PGT, aspiring physicians obtain training permits, allowing them to operate in a regulated and supervised environment.

StateUS GradsIMGsStateUS GradsIMGsStateUS GradsIMGs
Alabama12Maine MD33Oregon13
Alaska23Maine DO1 year in AOA approved programPennsylvania MD2
Arizona MD13Maryland12Pennsylvania DO1
Arizona DO1Massachusetts23Puerto Rico1
Arkansas13Michigan1Rhode Island22
California MD12Minnesota1South Carolina12
California DO1Mississippi11-3South DakotaSuccessful completion of residency program
Colorado1Missouri13Tennessee MD13
Connecticut2MontanaApproved residency program3Tennessee DO1
Washington, DC13Nevada MD33Utah2 years completed OR one year and enrolled in a post-graduate residency
Florida MD12Nevada DO3 years for full license OR 2 if resident signs commitment to practice in NVVermont MD23
Florida DO1 year in an AOA-approved programNew Hampshire2Vermont DO1 year rotating internship or 3 year residency
Georgia11-3New Jerseygraduated after July 1, 2003 must complete 2 years of PGT and have signed a contract for a 3rd yearVirgin Islands6 months after 2 SPEX attempts
Guam36 months of progressive PGTNew Mexico MD2Virginia1
Hawaii12New Mexico DO1Washington MD2
Idaho13New York13Washington DO1
Illinois2North Carolina12West Virginia MD13
Indiana12North Dakota12.5West Virginia DO1
Iowa12Northern Mariana Islands1Wisconsin2
Kansas13Ohio12Wyoming2 years (1 year if current certification or continuous licensure for 5 years)
Kentucky2Oklahoma MD12
Louisiana2Oklahoma DO1

Types of Clinical Experience

Following graduation from medical school, doctors often pursue postgraduate training, most commonly in the form of a residency program. Previously, young doctors were expected to spend their initial postgraduate year (PGY-1) in an internship that exposed them to a variety of clinical circumstances. The first year was seen as an important phase of general learning before doctors focused on the specific training of their selected residency. Nowadays, broad rotational internships in PGY-1 are less prevalent, with most physicians starting specialized residency training immediately.

However, it’s essential to recognize that not all clinical experiences are the same. Some are intended for people who are still in the pre-medical stage, acting as a first step into the medical field. These experiences, while not directly related to the licensure procedure, are critical for obtaining access to the healthcare industry and developing a solid grasp of medical practice.


Shadowing provides a glimpse into the lives of healthcare workers, highlighting the nuances of various responsibilities on the medical team. This experience doesn’t usually include direct patient interaction. Instead, you spend one or more days shadowing a healthcare practitioner and studying their routine. 

Shadowing paints a more complete picture of how different jobs, such as physician assistants, nurses, and pharmacists, interact and operate within the healthcare system.


For those craving hands-on experience, volunteering in healthcare settings can be incredibly rewarding. It might offer direct patient contact and a chance to dive deeper into the healthcare environment, especially if you hold certain certifications. Volunteering spans from short-term commitments to more extended engagements, allowing you to explore different departments and roles. This direct interaction with healthcare teams not only enriches your understanding but also helps you forge connections and network with professionals in the field. It’s a fantastic exploration path and often a prerequisite for entering professional healthcare programs.


Internships or research projects represent the most comprehensive form of practical experience, aligning closely with your career aspirations. These opportunities provide a deep dive into applied experience, directly enhancing your resume and professional insights. Whether it’s a single term or spans multiple terms, internships can be based within educational settings or in real-world healthcare environments. They’re particularly suited for students who are clear about their career goals or recent graduates planning a gap year before further studies. By engaging in such focused experiences, you gain a significant edge in professional preparedness and understanding of your chosen field.


A residency program is an important stage in a physician’s training since it allows them to improve their diagnostic, treatment, and management skills within their selected specialty. This period not only hones their clinical skills but also often involves engagement in community service, patient education, research, and even teaching other healthcare providers. The goal is to mold residents into board-certified specialists, ready to contribute at the highest levels in their fields.

After receiving their medical degrees, doctors undertake residency, a postgraduate period in which they get practical experience in a specialized area of medicine. This training is crucial for learning the competencies required to practice medicine autonomously and is regarded as a critical step toward full licensure. Residency programs, which may span between three and seven years, depending on the specialty, are tough. They include not only patient treatment under professional supervision, but also taking part in educational activities such as lectures and conferences that supplement a doctor’s knowledge.

Residency is demanding, including grueling hours and negotiating complicated patients, but it’s extremely rewarding. It’s an opportunity for major professional development, confidence building, and developing ties with both patients and other healthcare professionals. After successfully completing a residency program, physicians can take board certification tests, allowing them to become acknowledged specialists within their practice fields.


Fellowship training provides an opportunity for individuals seeking to limit their focus even further. Fellowships are higher-level training options that occur after residency, enabling physicians to focus on a specialization within their discipline. This may include more intensive clinical practice, research, and, in certain situations, teaching. To be eligible for a fellowship, clinicians must have undergone a residency in an appropriate specialty, have significant expertise in their area of emphasis, and have the clinical abilities required to bring value to their profession at a high level.

clinical experience

The Impact of Clinical Experience on Licensing

The process of obtaining an MD or DO license is distinguished by extensive postgraduate study, usually via an internship or residency that lasts anywhere from three to seven years, based on the medical specialization. This period is critical for doctors to get hands-on training in their chosen specialty while working directly under the supervision of seasoned specialists. While the license itself qualifies them for general practice, many doctors aim for board certification in their specialty area. Achieving this certification is essential for securing hospital privileges and establishing a solid reputation.

Residency is a period of substantial development and learning for physicians. It exposes them to the reality of taking care of patients, from the initial evaluation to developing thorough treatment plans and maintaining patient health. This training guarantees that doctors are proficient at implementing what they’ve learned in real-world circumstances and ready to meaningfully contribute to patient care.

Acquiring Clinical Experience for Medical Licensure

Aspiring medical practitioners can choose from a wide range of residency programs, ranging from primary care areas like family and internal medicine to more specialized areas like pediatrics, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry.

Applying to a residency program begins with an application through the Electronic Residency Application Service. The selection is comprehensive, with an emphasis on academic accomplishments, clinical experience, scientific contributions, and personal characteristics. The National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) helps aspiring residents find programs that fit their talents and interests.

Your application must include a thorough clinical history, recommendations, and a proven dedication to the medical profession. Participating in extracurricular activities, doing research, and contributing to community service can help boost your profile, providing a more complete picture of your devotion.

The Role of Supervision in Residency Training

Supervision is essential for ensuring that residents receive the required direction and assistance. Experienced physicians supervise residents and give guidance, comments, and mentorship. This supervision is gradually reduced as the residents develop their skills and gain independence over their medical practice. The goal is to guarantee that patients get the highest possible care while also teaching residents skills to become independent.

Effective mentorship gives residents the assistance, direction, and advice they need to grow professionally. Mentors can offer their knowledge and experiences while also connecting residents with useful resources and networking opportunities. Mentorship also keeps residents motivated and inspired, giving them a feeling of connection and meaning in their medical professions.

Residents endure a variety of hurdles during their training, involving long hours, heavy workloads, or emotional stress. This training may be mentally and physically demanding, and residents might find it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance while remaining motivated and engaged. However, programs increasingly provide support mechanisms to help residents cope with these issues, including counseling or wellness programs, standing by schedules, and time off.

Overcoming Residency Challenges

Residency is an important time of submersion, skill development, and professional advancement for medical graduates. However, it is a route fraught with significant obstacles, both expected and unexpected. One important barrier is the possibility of residency program closures, which can have a big influence on a physician’s career path. For example, the 2019 closure of Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia left 570 residents looking for other employment, highlighting the susceptibility of medical training programs to financial instability.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of residency program closures, which is typically ascribed to the healthcare sector’s changing financial situation. Between 2021 and 2022, 42 residency programs suspended operations or lost accreditation, reflecting larger economic conditions. By January 2024, two additional programs in Philadelphia were set for closure, reflecting the continued issues within medical education.

Aside from the administrative challenges of program closures, residency tests physicians-in-training on a deeper human level. Balancing job obligations with personal well-being, time management, and coping with financial difficulties are among the main issues that people confront. Surveys show that concerns including work-life balance and the stress of probable failure or significant mistakes weigh heavily on residents, often more than the clinical challenges themselves.

clinical experience

Clinical Experience Beyond MDs and DOs

Clinical internships are an important part of the educational process for all future healthcare professionals, including physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and other disciplines. These experiences help students improve bedside manners, decision-making abilities, and grasp of the ethical aspects involved in patient care, building a solid basis for their future jobs in healthcare.

Those seeking to become Physician Assistants (PAs) undergo rigorous training that includes both extensive classroom instruction and more than 2,000 hours of clinical rotations. The process to become a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) requires extensive practical training as well. Details vary based on the institution and state. However, just as for PAs, these clinical hours allow them to move from academic understanding to practical applications. They are developed to educate graduates about the reality of patient care, providing them with the skills they need to provide high-quality care from the start of their careers.

This crucial phase of education allows medical professionals to refine their skills in assessing patient health, administering treatments, and supporting medical procedures. It’s a time to learn, adapt, and grow. 

Strategies for Acquiring Clinical Experience

Knowing and satisfying the clinical experience criteria is critical for anybody seeking a medical license.

  • Identify Licensure Requirements: To find out what is necessary, visit the medical board’s web page in the state in which you want to practice. An academic advisor or program supervisor can explain how your education fits the licensing requirements.
  • Leverage Educational and Training Programs: Make sure you’re enrolled in a program certified by organizations recognized by regulatory bodies: ACGME or AOA; ARC-PA; CCNE or ACEN. Dive into clinical rotations, exploring opportunities to broaden your expertise.
  • Document Your Clinical Experience: Keep a detailed record of each of your clinical rotations along with other clinical activities, containing dates, hours, locations, and tasks accomplished. These documents are necessary when submitting a licensing application. Also, get feedback or letters of recommendation from supervisors or instructors who will testify to your clinical competency.
  • Explore Additional Clinical Opportunities: Beyond the clinical rotations needed by your school, consider internships or residency programs for additional experience in your field of interest. These are frequently competitive; therefore, a solid application emphasizing your academic achievements and past clinical experiences is essential. Volunteering at clinics, hospitals, or other medical institutions may also provide practical experience while demonstrating your commitment to healthcare.


Gaining practical expertise is essential for gaining a medical license, since it efficiently bridges the gap between academic studies and the hands-on abilities required for patient care. Whether you want to be an MD, DO, PA, or nurse, passing these clinical criteria is critical for demonstrating your skills and obtaining the license to practice. Although the specifics may vary by state and profession, one thing stays constant: high-quality clinical experience is critical for producing healthcare workers who are competent, adaptable, and patient-centered.

As the healthcare field continues to grow and change, so will the routes to acquiring clinical experience. Seeing these challenges as chances for improvement ensures that the healthcare workforce stays robust, adaptable, and always prepared to address the needs of the communities they serve.