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    How to Shadow a Doctor

    By Cait Williams

    Cait Williams is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cait recently graduated from Ohio University with a degree in Journalism and Strategic Communications. During her time at OU, was active in the outdoor recreation community.

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    Reviewed by Bill Jack

    Bill Jack has over a decade of experience in college admissions and financial aid. Since 2008, he has worked at Colby College, Wesleyan University, University of Maine at Farmington, and Bates College.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: March 21st, 2024
    How to Shadow a Doctor

    Have you ever wondered what the day to day life of a doctor looks like? Then you are in the right place! Shadowing a doctor is a great idea for prospective medical students and curious high schoolers who think that it’s where they would like to end up. Keep on reading to learn more about how to shadow and doctor!

    What is shadowing? 

    “Shadowing” is a common practice that allows students to gain insight into potential career fields. When thinking about becoming a doctor, you’re looking at a path that is going to keep you busy for a minimum of 10-11 years. So, doing everything you can to be certain of this career choice is a good idea.  

    When you shadow a doctor, or any professional, you’ll get to experience the environment they work in and if it would be a good fit for you. Shadowing is also an impressive experience to include on both college and future job applications.  

    Also see: What to consider when choosing a pre med school

    Finding a doctor to shadow 

    The most difficult part about shadowing might be actually finding a doctor to shadow. Usually, to shadow someone you have to initiate the idea to them. Doctors are busy people, so they don’t often take time to seek students out. Instead, it’s the other way around.   

    Shadowing a doctor starts with you reaching out to them. You can do so via email or a phone call, but email is likely preferred. Keep reading for a brief list of what you should include in your email to a doctor or medical professional.  

    Related: What classes should you take in high school for pre-med?

    Introduce yourself 

    It’s good to include a small introduction about yourself so the reader gets a good idea of who you are. You should state your name, where you go to school, and what year you are in school. If you are shadowing a primary care physician from your hometown, you could share how long you have lived in that community. You don’t have to make this section very long. The point is simply to introduce yourself and add a little background if warranted. 

    Explain why you’d like to shadow 

    Now it’s time to talk about your interest in the medical field or related experience you might have. The purpose of this point is to show whoever you hope to shadow that you would value and make good use of this experience. If you plan to be on a pre-med track when you go to college, or maybe are already on a pre-med track in college, mention that here.  

    Your availability  

    Finally, include the time that is convenient for you to shadow. Doing so is important not only for your own schedule, but to show that you are prepared for this experience and have put thought into it. You may need to change your schedule to find a time that works for you and the doctor. Remember, their schedule will likely not be able to change at all, so you will need to be flexible.  If you plan to call the physician you want to shadow, it may still be a good idea to write down all the information noted above and have it in front of you.  

    Related: How to become a physician assistant

    What if a doctor says no? 

    A doctor may not always be able to let you shadow. Whether that is because they don’t have time, are uncomfortable with it, or have other reasons, that is okay. In the event that a doctor says no, thank them for their time and that if the chance ever arises you would like to still shadow them.  There are a lot of medical professionals out there that will be more than happy to help you find out if the medical field is the right fit for you. So, don’t give up!  

    Also see: What is a DO medical degree?

    What do you do while shadowing? 

    This answer depends on who it is you are shadowing. If you are shadowing a radiologist, you may find yourself spending a day in front of computers in a lab. However, while shadowing a primary care physician, you may sit in on real appointments with patients and even interact with them. No matter whom you shadow, it will likely involve a lot of silent observation. Because of the nature of medicine, there is little that you can take part in without formal training.   

    You should keep in mind, however, that just because a doctor allows you to shadow does not mean that a patient will feel comfortable with you being there. Most doctors, while you’re shadowing them, will explain who you are and ask a patient if it is okay for you to sit in on the appointment. Some patients won’t be okay with that, so remember that their preference is nothing personal. 

    Don’t miss: What is a medical school residency?

    How long should you shadow for?  

    This question depends on a few factors. First, it depends how much time a physician has in their schedule to allow you to shadow. Physicians working with a busy schedule may only have a morning or an afternoon available for you to shadow. This is something you may want to discuss ahead of time when you contact them.   

    Second, it depends on what you are looking to get out of your shadow experience. A longer shadow experience does not mean it will automatically be better, but you will likely get more out of it. If it is your first time shadowing, one day may be a good place to start. However, if you are familiar with the shadowing process and would like to try and go further, then asking to shadow for a few consecutive days or even a week, may be a great thing to ask about.  

    Finally, you may be shadowing as a requirement and not just for your own interest. Some medical schools require students to shadow for a certain number of hours. While that is not standard for every medical school, it is something to keep in mind. Make a record of all your shadowing experiences with exact dates and times in case you need to reference them.  

    Also see: How long is medical school?

    Shadowing alternatives  

    If you’ve tried to shadow before and it hasn’t worked out, you might be feeling a little discouraged. How are you supposed to gain experience if no one will let you come and observe? Well, don’t give up just yet. There are other ways that you can expose yourself to a clinical setting.   

    Volunteering is one great way to do this. Volunteering at a hospital or a hospice center is a great way to expand your knowledge of the medical field. Like shadowing, you will likely not gain experience doing medical things. However, you will gain exposure to the atmosphere of a hospital and get to see what some doctors do. A hospice center is a good way to understand what most medical students struggle with most, which is grief and loss during their medical training. Experiencing and seeing this may be difficult at first, but it is a crucial aspect of being a well-rounded medical care provider.  

    Finally, you also can gain experience in the medical world by working in it. Positions such as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) or emergency medical technician (EMT) often do not require much training. CNA’s can often be trained on the job and EMT’s usually complete a training course in as short as a few weeks.  

    Related: Top medical school scholarships

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Shadowing a doctor is a valuable experience that you can use to help you decide if the medical field is a good fit for you 
    • If it is possible to shadow a few doctors for varying lengths of time, that can be beneficial for your own experience and for school and job applications 
    • Shadowing a doctor is not the only way to gain experience in the medical field, other positions may offer you just as many helpful opportunities 
    • Doctors may not always allow you to shadow them, but that’s okay, there are lots of doctors out there and plenty of opportunities available 

    Also see: How to attend medical school for free

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    Frequently asked questions about how to shadow a doctor

    How many hours of shadowing is enough?

    This question is similar to how long you should shadow a doctor for. There is not one answer for what is best for everyone. If you are required to shadow for a certain amount of time, then of course make sure you hit the minimum hours that are required of you.

    Can you shadow nurses?

    Yes, you can shadow nurses! Doctors aren’t the only people you can shadow in the medical field. Becoming a nurse is a big commitment, and having a firm understanding of their daily lives is important!  Nurses, however, will likely have to receive permission from someone at the hospital or office they work within.

    Is shadowing required to get into medical school?

    Each medical school will have its own requirements for prospective students. So, be sure to check with each school you are applying to individually. Even if shadowing is not needed, it is something that can’t hurt to try out!

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