Shadowing a Doctor

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How to shadow a doctor as a premedical student.

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Shadowing a doctor is a great way to find out if a career in medicine might be right for you. It will give you a better understanding of what a doctor’s typical day is like, and give you good experience to talk about in your applications and interviews for medical school. It’s also a great way to gain familiarity with different specialties and medical environments.

How do I find a doctor to shadow?

If you have a relationship with your own doctor(s), or know any doctors, start by asking them. You can also ask your teachers, professors, and premed or academic advisors if they know any doctors that other students have shadowed in the past. If you’re in college, leverage any relationships your school may have with a medical school or hospital on campus. It’s also okay to contact hospitals through their volunteer office, or search online for local doctors with specialties that interest you. Call their office or email them at least a few weeks before you’d like to begin shadowing.

How should I ask them?

Express why you want to shadow this person specifically. Maybe someone recommended them or maybe they practice a specialty that interests you. Briefly tell them where you go to school, any medically related experiences you’ve had, and your goals. Be courteous and professional. Many doctors welcome opportunities to talk to students, so if you get turned down, ask other doctors. Read examples and learn more tips here.

How long should I shadow?

Arrange something that fits both the doctor’s schedule and your level of interest. You may only want to spend one day with them, or you may want to shadow a few hours a week for several weeks or months. If you have the time in the summer or over a break, you may want to shadow full time for an entire week. Find out what the doctor is comfortable with or what has worked well in the past.

What should I wear and what should I bring?

Dress professionally and comfortably: dress pants and a tie for men, dress pants or a dress for women, and closed-toed shoes you can walk in all day. Bring a notebook. Ask questions and take notes in between patients, not in front of them, and prepare some questions ahead of time.

Should I talk to patients?

The doctor is required to introduce you to each patient and explain that you are a premedical student, so expect to talk to patients. Some people may be uncomfortable having you in the room during an examination or the entire appointment, so you may be asked to step out. Other patients may ask you questions about yourself, school or your plans to become a doctor. In either case, it’s important that you keep all patient information private. You may be required to sign a HIPAA compliance document stating that you will not disclose any patient information or details that could lead to patient identification.

What should I do afterwards?

Write a thank you note to give the doctor on your last day that thanks them for their time. If you think it went well, ask for a letter of recommendation right away. Don’t wait until you need it because the experience may not be fresh in the doctor’s mind by that time. Reflect on what you’ve learned from your shadowing experience and write down anything you may want to remember later.

What if I can't find a shadowing opportunity? 

Getting clinical experience is important to confirm that medicine is the right career for you, and to build your application to medical school, but it doesn’t necessarily have to include shadowing. In a 2016 survey of medical school admissions officers conducted by the AAMC, 87% of respondents indicated that they accept an alternate activity instead of clinical shadowing. Check out these alternatives to shadowing, and more ways to get experience here.

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