The Clerkship Phase of Medical School

March 23, 2023


Medical students typically hit the books during their first two years of medical school. Then, they are ready to apply the basic sciences they’ve learned by scheduling their clinical rotations.

Most med students receive clerkships during his or her third and fourth years to train in a medical specialty for several weeks before rotating from that one to another.

The clerkship phase of medical school is an exciting time in every medical student’s training as they are able to put basic clinical knowledge into practice. During rotations, students will engage in clinical patient care designed to provide valuable hands-on experience across a variety of specialties.

Real-time experiences give medical students the opportunity to observe and participate in patient care while gaining valuable insight into a specific field of medicine. Clinical rotations are critical for medical students to develop the skill sets necessary to ensure future success.

Rotations have long been the Gold Standard for providing hands-on experience when preparing medical students to become practicing physicians. Any general clinical experience a student has had prior to starting specialized rotations can be helpful, especially if they are pursuing a more specialized field.

Types of Clinical Rotations

Through clinical rotation clerkships, medical students have the opportunity to build relationships with other professionals in the medical field and make connections that can help them throughout their career. Clinical rotations are typically divided into two categories:

  1. Core Rotations – This type of clerkship is mandatory and includes specialties such as family medicine, internal medicine, psychiatry, pediatrics, surgery and women’s health. Students partake in activities, such as taking patient histories, physical examinations, case presentations to attending physicians, research projects, lectures, and additional clinical assignments.
  2. Elective Rotations – This type of clerkship gives the student the opportunity to gain experience in medical specialties that are of interest to them, such as emergency medicine, radiology, obstetrics/gynecology, and orthopedics. Through hands-on experiences, students are able to learn more about different aspects of medicine from professionals practicing in the field.

By interacting with doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals during the later years of their training, medical students can build important relationships that can help them reach their career goals.

Are Med Students Paid for Clinical Rotations?

“Clinical rotations are an essential part of every medical student’s education and should be taken very seriously,” says Dr. Hans Wolf, an M.D. and founder of WOLFPACC’s Physicians Achievement Concept Course. “Although students are not paid for the care they provide, a clinical clerkship helps the student to better understand how proper patient care is delivered in a real healthcare setting. With the right attitude and dedication, their clinical rotations will prepare them to practice medicine in the future as a more competent physician.”

Clerkships provide students with insight into how important medical systems work while allowing them to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to become successful doctors. Students gain a better understanding of patient care by participating in the delivery of quality treatments during rotations. For those reasons, medical students should take full advantage of the opportunity to get valuable hands-experience by working hard, being fully engaged, and making important connections that can help them reach their career goals.

NOTE: In medical residency, you’re no longer a student; you’re a doctor with real responsibilities. As a resident, you will be compensated for the patient care you provide.

Value of Clinical Research for Premeds

Medical school admissions are extremely competitive, so having no prior clinical experience can put an applicant at a significant disadvantage. Research projects provide an aspiring medical student with a unique opportunity to develop valuable skills and gain an in-depth understanding of medical science. Through research, they can better appreciate the scientific concepts that underlie medicine while also honing their ability to interpret and evaluate findings.

Premeds who participate in research projects also demonstrate to admissions committees that they are serious about pursuing a medical career and have the dedication it takes to succeed. Experience in clinical research shows a student has taken the initiative to learn more about medicine, which is an important trait for any aspiring doctor. Furthermore, your experience with research will be invaluable in your medical school studies, as research projects involve the same process and techniques used to generate scientific evidence.

Med Students Also Have a Role to Play

Clinical research has seen substantial growth in the last few years, with medical students having the opportunity to contribute significantly. They can be involved in research projects that include a wide range of topics, such as public health, pharmaceuticals, genetics and epidemiology. Participating in clinical research is an excellent opportunity for medical students to expand their skillset and make meaningful contributions to the field of medicine. By taking part in clinical research, students can help to improve patient care.

Medical research is a highly structured and organized process that requires strong scientific and communication skills. For medical students who choose to take part, it helps to have a good knowledge of medical terminology and principles. As a future doctor or clinical researcher, you must also be able to work independently and find solutions to any problems that arise during the experiments or tests. Nonetheless, with the proper qualifications and understanding, students can have a real impact in the field of clinical research.


Clerkships and clinical research studies allow medical students to learn by observing as well as to participate in a variety of clinical activities under the supervision of licensed professionals. That’s why clinical rotations require students to gain real world experience in a variety of medical specialties before graduating and becoming a doctor. So, there is no minimum number of hours a student should spend in the lab doing clinical research.

However… if you are at the point of applying to medical schools, remember that having clinical research experience is considered to be a plus.

By taking on a clinical research project, premeds actually gain the knowledge, understanding and skills that are essential for getting accepted into medical school. It is also an opportunity to learn more about a chosen field of medicine, research areas of interest, and show admissions committees that you have the passion and commitment to succeed. Ultimately, a successful research project could be the difference between getting accepted into medical school in the United States; or not!

NOTE: If your career goals are to work in a research lab, you do not need an MD or DO. As long as you have a PhD (or sometimes a master’s degree) you can pursue a career as a clinical researcher.

During their journey, medical students and residents must pass a series of national medical licensing exams. Here at WOLFPACC, Dr. Hans Wolf and his experienced staff empower you with the skills to achieve exceptional results on all USMLE and COMLEX-USA medical licensing exams. Find out how we help students apply the knowledge learned in medical school to ensure a successful career in medicine.

photo courtesy of Laura James at