The Value of Clinical Experiences Early in Medical School


Medical schools have traditionally focused on providing students with an intensive basic science foundation during the preclinical years, teaching advanced physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, etc. This was conventionally followed by 2 years of internships where students could exercise their newly acquired objective knowledge in a more practical setting.

Recognizing that this seemingly simple process resulted in significant burnout among students and that providers lacked strong patient contact skills, medical schools recently turned to a more integrative approach.

Schools are now prioritizing earlier clinical exposure, knowing that vital humanistic skills of communication and empathy must be developed early in a career.

At Thomas Jefferson University, in particular, our faculty places great emphasis on early clinical exposure. Even in the first few months of medical school, we steadily learned basic clinical skills such as physical examination, empathetic patient interviews, and body system specific techniques that we covered in class this week – the.

In addition to producing more competent clinicians, this change also makes preclinical medical students happier. When I see real or standardized patients after a long week of lecturing, I quickly remember why I entered this demanding profession. While I love the scientific content we learn in class, nothing beats interactions with patients.

Keeping this patient-focused end goal in mind helps me persevere in science lessons and also helps me synthesize my new knowledge and apply it to the real world.

One program that I particularly enjoy is Clinical Experience, which allows students to visit various hospitals and conduct assessments of non-medical conditions of patients that may influence their health.

Readmissions are plaguing healthcare in the United States, and much has been said about the disproportionate health impacts that patients’ zip codes have on their genetic codes. Experts are constantly discussing how we should refocus on preventive care.

In particular with the COVID-19 pandemic, the field has demonstrated a new interest in public health. Social factors beyond a patient’s control often dictate their ability to comply with physician advice or follow best practices for their health. As a medical student in Philadelphia, I learned that these issues are especially important because our city has one of the highest poverty rates in the country – over 25%!

Deeply rooted in our new understanding of the social determinants of health, the Clinical Experience program was designed to help students directly make a difference in patient outcomes, even in our early years before learning advanced medicine.

We ask patients about their access to healthy food, stable housing, transportation to medical care, and other social conditions. If it turns out that patients are missing a key social need, we connect with social workers to offer them a solution. While there are certainly not enough options, the city has many programs to help residents in need, but awareness of these choices is limited.

Patients connected to these resources are very grateful. Additionally, students are truly making a tangible difference in the lives of their patients while developing their communication skills and emotional intelligence. I hope this experience will also help us better understand these social factors once we become medical practitioners. Ideally, the doctors of tomorrow will not only prescribe drugs or perform surgeries, but also work with their patients on a human level to address more preventative and non-medical factors that may influence their health.

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About Yash Shah

Yash Shah is a first year medical student at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received a Bachelor of Science in Premedicine from Penn State University. Prior to attending medical school, Yash worked in clinical and translational research in hematology / oncology at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Yash has a long-standing interest in advancing medical education, improving healthcare policies and economics, and working with cancer patients. In his spare time, he enjoys playing tennis, supporting the Eagles, reading and traveling.


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