Learning by Doing: What is a Practicum?

A pharmacy professor speakers to students in a pharmacy lab setting.

Work with professionals and patients through Pacific’s extensive clinical rotations. Jumpstart your healthcare career by spending up to half of your degree out in real-world settings, putting your expertise into practice and building your resume.

We’re continuing our celebration of National Mentoring Month by highlighting the clinical practicums students participate in through Pacific’s College of Health Professions! Featuring over 20 professional healthcare degree paths, our emphasis on experiential learning and hands-on job training can help you start your career in patient care and research. 

Learning in the classroom from expert instructors is just one half of what makes an effective professional health degree

A well-rounded advanced healthcare degree also includes rigorous and hands-on clinical practicum experiences on and off campus.

Clinical practicum experiences and other outreach opportunities empower aspiring health professionals by placing them directly into real-world scenarios. 

Through helping patients and assisting licensed professionals in their prospective field, practicum participants are able to put what they’ve learned during their degree into practice. 

Stay with us as we delve deeper into what the practicum experience looks like and why you should prioritize healthcare programs that provide job training during your degree.


What is a Clinical Practicum?

There are many opportunities for healthcare students to gain real-world experience while pursuing their degree, but none are as structured and specific as the clinical practicum.

Placing students directly into healthcare settings, the practicum experience combines thoughtful mentorship and hands-on training. 

Observing and assisting experts in their field, healthcare students participating in clinical rotations find themselves in tangible situations in which they can put their education into practice. 

Whether aiding licensed doctors in an optometry office or discovering the essentials of recovery during physical therapy rotations, experiential healthcare education creates confident, compassionate professionals ready to begin their careers.

What Will I Be Doing During My Practicum?

Responsibilities during your healthcare practicum will vary depending on the degree path you’ve chosen, but will always include close observation and shadowing of medical professionals. 

Unlike the medical residency — usually completed after graduating from medical school — practicums and clinical experiences take place while completing your graduate or professional healthcare degree.

This means that you will not yet be licensed to perform certain duties in your field, and will have to defer to your preceptor (the health professional who acts as teacher and mentor). 

However, healthcare students still have a lot of responsibilities and learning experiences during their clinical rotation, including:

  • Shadowing healthcare professionals. Assisting and observing licensed healthcare providers is the bulk of what healthcare students will do during their practicum.

    During this time preceptors act as mentors, highlighting techniques and strategies students can take into their careers and beyond.

  • Interacting with patients. From discussing medication side effects in the pharmacy to helping those with mental illness, healthcare students on clinical rotation help facilitate care on a daily basis.

  • Learning about the healthcare industry. Patient care is just one aspect of a career in healthcare. Learning how to navigate the administrative side of the profession can mean helping your patients more quickly and efficiently.

    This is especially useful to those considering the healthcare MBA track.

  • Communicating with doctors. Pacific’s College of Health Professions values coordination between healthcare professionals to best facilitate patient care.

    This interprofessional education can greatly benefit students who will be interacting with referring physicians and specialists. 

How Long is a Healthcare Practicum?

A college of health student demonstrates how to apply bandages to a patient's arm.

A healthcare degree is designed to spend almost equal time learning in the classroom and working on skills in a clinical setting, switching off between the two. 

The practicum, however, usually takes place all at once, and often during the last full year of your specific program.

Because of this, you can get hundreds of hours working alongside healthcare professionals with decades of experience caring for patients and mentoring the next generation of providers.

At Pacific, physician assistant students spend over a year in various primary care settings during the second half of their degree, while prospective audiologists take the entirety of their third year in a country-wide externship. 

Clinical practicum opportunities are common within healthcare programs and the right balance between instruction and training creates more qualified health professionals.

Where do Healthcare Practicums Take Place?

Clinical experiences can take place wherever your program has preceptors. This can mean training directly on campus, across the state, or even in another country.

Whether working with athletes at a local high school or assisting veterans through the VA, aspiring healthcare professionals can make use of clinical training in an external setting that matches their passion.

For any continuing education or classes still required for graduation, online courses or occasional campus visits may be required. 

Is a Clinical Practicum a Paid Position?

Generally, clinical practicums are not paid experiences, due in large part to the nature of the work being done and the lack of professional licensure of the participants. 

Pacific’s College of Health Professions is available for campus tours! Visit our Hillsboro, Oregon campus and speak with faculty, discover classroom resources, and get your application questions answered by an admissions expert.