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Pre-Med Preparation: The Importance of Physician Shadowing

Created 03.22.08 by Christian Becker
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Physician shadowing, in my opinion, is one of the best extracurricular activities in which a pre-medical student can engage for several reasons:

1. It provides you with clinical exposure and stories to talk about in the admission interview.
2. Shadowing allows you to see what medicine and a physician’s life are like every day.
3. You will quickly discover if medicine is really for you.
4. It’s easy to set up and do.
5. It’s one of those “intangible” (and unofficial) requirements to get into medical school.

For purposes of this discussion, shadowing really boils down to one thing: clinical exposure. If you already have worked as a nurse or medical assistant with ample patient and physician contact and interaction, you really don’t need any shadowing, or at least not much. It’s an easy way to get that important clinical exposure that can make or break your application. 

In essence, if you have not spent some significant time with physicians and patients during your time as a pre-med, how do you really know you want to be a physician? How do you convince the admissions folks that you truly know what it is like to be a physician and involved in patient care? They want to see that you have immersed yourself in clinical settings with real patients.

From my own experience as an applicant just a few years ago, I can emphatically state that I knew that I wanted to be a physician due almost entirely to my shadowing experiences. In addition, I was asked about those experiences in admissions interviews and was able to easily answer the question “Why medicine?”. I was also able to share some of the things I had seen and experienced during my observation time with my interviewers and use them in my personal statement. In a nutshell, shadowing is what cemented my desire to be a physician.

As a student interviewer for my medical school, I cannot over-emphasize the need for clinical experiences and exposure. One of the most important predictors of whether or not someone is a strong, motivated applicant is the breadth of their clinical exposure. Minimal or a complete lack of experience may dash the hopes of gaining admission to medical school for an otherwise qualified applicant. I was getting ready to interview a candidate a few months ago who had very minimal clinical exposure listed on his application. He had spent some significant time in a research lab and had a fairly strong application with a good MCAT and GPA. In discussing this applicant with the faculty interviewer, we both agreed that they really had to convince us that they had an adequate understanding of and insight into medicine or he would be rejected, despite an otherwise decent application. It really came down to clinical exposure.

On a separate note, if you are still worried about answering “Why medicine?”, I would suggest doing some more shadowing. This will allow you to get to know the physician, their specialty, and medicine overall. You’ll meet that one patient that will affect you in some meaningful way. You will never forget them and will be able to talk about your experience for years (and in interviews). I had such an encounter with one of the surgeons I was shadowing. A little girl showed up with a dog bite to the face, brought into the office by her parents. It was just about time for all of us to go home and we ended up taking her into surgery that night. It was one of the most exciting experiences for me as an undergrad: it wasn’t just the actual surgery that was cool, but the whole experience with the patient and the drama surrounding the whole thing. It gave me a good story to help convey my passion for medicine.

I believe that if you only spend a few hours shadowing here and there, you really miss a large part of the experience. Be sure to spend enough hours shadowing the same physician. When I say “enough hours”, I would suggest that you may want to spend a few days or even a week with a physician in the office, the operating room, and/or maybe even taking some call. If you only go to see the “cool surgeries” and never go to clinic, you may miss out on some of the “real life” of a surgeon.

Other Clinical Exposure
Don’t forget that you can get clinical exposure in other ways as well. This includes any employment in clinics or volunteer work in an emergency department, for example. Just make sure it’s real exposure with patients and physicians.

Arranging Shadowing Experiences
Realize that you can set up your shadowing however you like. Some people like to shadow a few hours every week for several weeks or months, if that is what will fit in their schedules. As already mentioned, I personally preferred spending time with one physician for an entire week in one stretch, Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., to get a better idea of what it is really like. I did this with several different physicians in different specialties and followed one of them on call after hours. I scheduled my shadowing experiences during the summer when I was out of school for a few weeks during my undergrad, and would highly recommend it to anyone.

To schedule a shadowing experience, simply open the local Yellow Pages, pick the specialty you are interested in observing, and call any physician’s office. Tell the office person that you are a pre-med student at XYZ University planning on going to medical school next year. Ask them if Dr. Smith allows students to come into the office to shadow him or her. They very likely have done this before with other students. Tell them what dates you would prefer to shadow. Usually, the office staff will take down your phone number and then call you back after asking the physician or office manager. Many physicians are excited to have pre-meds in their offices.

While Shadowing
This may be obvious, but make sure you are dressed and groomed professionally when observing. If in doubt, overdress for the first day until you can get a feeling for what is acceptable in the office or the physician tells you it is okay to dress down. For men, that should be dress pants, shirt, and tie, and for women, dresses or professional business attire.

Most of the time, you mainly stand back and observe what the physician does without doing anything yourself. Try not to get in the way. After all, that is what shadowing is. Some physicians may involve you to some degree, may let you look in ears, for example, or be part of what they do in some fashion. If so, great, but don’t expect too much.

Actively ask questions between patients or when appropriate. The middle of a patient visit may be a bad time to quench your own thirst for knowledge. You want plenty of interaction with the physician so they can get to know you and see that you are interested in medicine, in patient care, etc. If you are interested in discussing controversial topics, do so with caution and professionalism instead of bias.

Recommendation Letters
At the conclusion of your experience, make sure you ask the physician for a strong letter of recommendation in support of your application to medical school. Don’t underestimate the letter and ask for it in the right way, because there is a right and a wrong way to ask for a letter. I’ll devote an entire column to recommendation letters in the near future, since they do play an important role, so stay tuned!

Christian Becker is the creator and operator of www.medschoolready.com and an SDN Contributor.

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Comments

  1. Start as soon as you can. These are great activities to get our of the way before you have to worry about studying for the MCAT and everything else goes crazy. Especially any summer break you have available allows you to spend some good quality time studying.

  2. Ella says:

    Thank you! This is a really helpful article. :) Uhm, I was just wondering if a first-year pre-med student like me could already start shadowing? Actually, my first-year is already done, just this month. (Classes are from June to March.) I just have to finish my finals and I’m off to summer vacation. I’m hoping to shadow a doctor this summer as well as volunteer in an orphanage (or a hospital). Is it too early for me? Should I wait till I’m a third or fourth year? Thanks. :)

  3. Stephanie says:

    I think it would be wise to go ahead and start shadowing as soon as you can. This will allow you time to explore different specialties, and to find out early on if medicine is for you. You don’t want to wait until your junior or senior year to find out medicine isn’t what you thought it would be, and then you are left trying to figure out what you are going to do. Unfortunately, I think this happens more often than we realize, and people jump into other career decisions without making an informed decision (i.e. going into dentistry, pharmacy, physical therapy, or nursing after they realize medicine isn’t for them). I think you are on the right track to starting your shadowing this summer. Observe a physician or two, and volunteer in a hospital, maybe in a department that you are interested in.

  4. Darshan says:

    I think it is best to go into a hospital setting and follow the life of a physician throughout the day and do it regularly so you get really immersed in the life of a physician. Just showing up for clinic is not the reality.

    The fact is that physicians are continually going to face onsult from politicians and others (NURSES and NPs!!!). You will continue to invest and then have them tell you to get paid less so they can get more votes and work their 3 12 hour shifts for more respectively.

    You will not get the respect you deserve and seemingly feel should be there. You must love the medicine to overcome the BS thrown around by disrespectful midlevels and patients these days. Be prepared for people who think they can solve things on WebMD.

  5. Mitch says:

    Great article, and I’m really looking forward to the next one on letters of recommendation, since I’m a little confused on how to go about asking for one.

  6. Good article about the importance of shadowing, but I think the ease of obtaining a shadowing experience is exaggerated. A pre-med who calls a private doc’s office has a fairly good chance of getting turned down, so be prepared to face some rejection (though after several calls you will probably find some success). I would recommend starting of with a doc who already knows you, perhaps your family doctor.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    You know, shadowing is really invaluable during premedical years AS WELL AS preclinical years of medical school.
    I know a lot of the reason premeds shadow is to get INTO medical school, but do keep in mind the alternative benefits of experiencing a variety of fields with a variety of different doctors once you have already jumped that hurdle.
    Shadowing is a great way to help you figure out what it is you are interested in before you have to deal with the responsibilities that come with 3rd and 4th year clinical rotations.
    While this article is directed towards premeds, don’t forget about shadowing once you are in your preclinical years of med school!

  8. ghostfoot says:

    A fine article! I look forward to your next.

  9. Mike says:

    I agree, I had many many hours of shadowing prior to med school. I am in 3rd year right now and I’ve seen a lot of what I’m doing now on the wards/clinic prior to me actually doing it. Med schools should start requiring an X amount of shadowing as a requirement. Heck PA schools require anywhere from 20 to over 1000 hours of clinical experiences, which can include shadowing. So why don’t med schools start requiring it? It will help people determine if medicine is something they really want to do so, instead of finding out too late that clinical medicine is not for them.

  10. EW says:

    As a student very familiar with the admissions process at my medical school I feel this article, while informative, overstates the need and importance of shadowing. I contend that most decisions to pursue medicine have either already been made when the person begins to shadow, or are made for significantly different reasons than “I shadowed a doctor and liked what I saw”. The author states he was a pre-medical student when he began shadowing and it would thus be more interesting to learn his motivation in choosing the pre-medicine route. His desire to pursue medicine was reinforced by his shadowing experience.

    In fact an emphasis on shadowing can weaken an application as it can possibly distract or even minimize an applicant’s other more unique attributes. An admission committee has limited time with each application and a focus on shadowing experiences in a personal statement or under extra-curricular activities may only serve to make an applicant more easily forgettable.

  11. Anonymous says:

    i agree, but this is ironic. i read a thread on the forum section for PAs, NPs, etc and they are AGAINST shadowing.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I completely agree that shadowing is a great way for aspiring doctors to learn about the profession and different specialties but do not fool people on the ease of obtaining these chances or the experiences they allow.

    I ran into significant problems trying to shadow a physician. Whether it was privacy laws or rules set up by the practice group of the doctor I was trying to shadow, I was turned away by the overwhelming majority of doctors. Maybe it helps if you have a parent that is a physician that knows other doctors but it is not as easy as “open the local Yellow Pages, pick the specialty you are interested in observing, and call any physician’s office.” This is an absolute lie. The majority of the doctors will not be able to accommodate these requests. Be prepared to spend some serious time looking for an opportunity.

    Also, not all opportunities are created equal. I have numerous friends who “shadowed” a doctor by staying in reception and answering phones. Be sure that you understand what the doctor will be allowing you to do.

    I have seen more and had more patient contact and responsibilities through my volunteer efforts than I ever had with shadowing. Make sure to experience everything you can and don’t limit yourself to this one avenue of gaining clinical experience.

  13. APMAHelp says:

    Shadowing is the very best way to find out if the medical specialty you’ve chosen will work for you. In podiatric medicine, we have a network of doctors who have volunteered to have students shadow in their offices. If you are considering a career in this field, feel free to log onto the website at http://www.aacpm.org/contactpod/default.asp to get a list of names in your area. And if you don’t see a name there that’s close to you, just send an email to our office at [email protected] and we’ll work with you to find a local doctor.

  14. jesus says:

    Is it possibly to shadow in other country, or does it have to be specially in the US? I brought up this question because i’m going on a trip during the summer, and i was wondering if i could shadow a physician anywhere else.

    thank you.

  15. Anonymous says:

    While I agree that Shadowing has become one of those “unofficial” requirements of medical school admission, I somewhat disagree on its universal value for all applicants. For myself, as an example, I was already more than convinced about my career path and had a decent understanding about what medicine would be like before I even took the MCAT. I had zero shadowing experience at the time.

    One should consider that not all shadowing is equal and that some applicants with no shadowing experience at all may have a much better understanding of healthcare and medicine than those with a thousand hours. It all depends on one’s unique background and individual perceptions and exposures. A thousand hours of shadowing a doc in a low-volume, low acuity suburban clinic somewhere doing BP screening or sports physicals for highschool kids, as an example, does not reflect in any way what life is like as a trauma surgeon in a large urban hospital, or even what the day to day activities of a general hospitalist is like.

    Different candidates have different background and unique qualities. It seems like we should emphasize more the diversity of preparation for medicine, rather than to always adhere to coockie-cutter requirements than make everyone look the same.

  16. Ali says:

    Another good way to find docs who would be helpful is to look at a close-by University hospital. The doctors there are much more helpful and much more willing to accept shadowing students. After all, they already have medical students who shadow them.

  17. InnerNinja says:

    I think another great way to get experience on the wards is to wear passive aggressive t-shirts under one’ professional attire. Think about it. We are demeaned by the short white coat, humiliated by Ranson’s Criteria as we sweat under the constricting noose of a shirt and tie.

    But let’s say one were to maintain one’s own sense of integrity through silent revolt? What if during the shadowing process you were to wear a shirt that read “sometimes i’m glad i dropped 6 figures on medical school. other times i wish i had simply become a ninja.”

    that would be truly brave, and satisfying. even if said shirt were tucked in under a pair of scrubs in silent rebellion.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Shadowing is way overrated in this article.

    A part of the process, but finding a doc to shadow is difficult and a burdon to the doc…slows them down.

    Shadowing is mearly for the recommendation and probably rarely changes a persons mind about pursuing medicine

  19. Rassle says:

    I actually agree. back when i only did volunteering through patient contact. I just mostly jsut talked to them. I didnt have any real idea of what medicine was like. Sure it was talking to others, no doubt about that. But i did not get any exposure of what the other side of medicine was–treating ppl.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Shadowing is extremely discouraged in Canada. Our patients’ right to their confidentiality trumps any wannabe doctor’s self-serving interests. Hospital volunteer work, on the other hand, is highly encouraged.

  21. Anonymous says:

    …What? Shadowing is the biggest waste of time ever. You can’t actually *DO* anything, or even *SAY* anything, you just sit back and passively watch someone do their job. How is that helpful? It irks me to no end that this is an “unofficial requirement” for medical school. Volunteer work is FAR better (and allows you to actually do something) then just following some doctor around for a few hours a week.

  22. isha says:

    Thanksss!!!! looking forward for another article :)

  23. Brittney says:

    I have a question, and this may be stupid. I am just now planning on pursuing my M.D. at the age of 23. I went to the military before I decided to go to college. My question is, for the clinical hours…how do you let the medical school know how many hours you have shadowed or volunteered? I just feel strange about asking the doctor to sign off on shadowing him/her for eight hours everyday. I am just confused on how the medical school you apply to will know that you have completed the number of hours you say you have. I apologize, I am just beginning to research all of this information. Thank you very much!

  24. Anonymous says:

    @Brittney

    You will specify the number of hours in your AMCAS application. If the med school wants to confirm it, they’ll contact the doctor.

  25. Elizabeth says:

    This was a really good article, and you gave great advice. I’ve volunteered before but shadowing sounds even better. How do i shadow a doctor though? Just ask someone?

  26. Anonymous says:

    Liz, Basically just look up the emails or phone numbers of docs in specialities you may be interested in and politely ask. If you have any family friends that are docs then thats probably even an easier way. If you email, be prepared for a lot of “NO” responses, but if you ask enough docs, atleast one or two should be happy to let you follow them around. Good luck and enjoy the experience.

  27. Anonymous says:

    This may not be the popular opinion, but I think all this shadowing nonsense is overrated. I don’t care how much shadowing or clinical volunteering you do–there is no way you’ll really know what medicine is all about until you’re in it. No amount of talking to med students and physicians, or even shadowing, can really prepare you for it. As such, I actually think there’s a danger in putting too much emphasis on shadowing, because it allows people to fall into this fallacy of thinking that the applicant who has shadowed is more qualified than the one who hasn’t.

    By the way, I say this as a soon-to-be MD who will start residency in July, has sat on the admissions committee at a major med school, and yes…shadowed as a pre-med.

  28. Jesse says:

    I’m conducting my first shadowing experience with a family care physician on Friday morning (3 days), and I’m curious as to what discussion topics, and or questions I should bring up when I get a free moment to have a dialogue. Unfortunately my schedule doesn’t allow me to shadow this particular physician regularly, so this will be a one-time thing, and I really want to maximize the experience as much as I can.

    I’m seriously considering a career as a PA in pediatrics, rather than MD, so of course I want to tailor my questions to suit this interest. Is it appropriate to bring a notepad and take notes, or is this not kosher, and somehow a violation of HIPAA? Thanks for the article- any help would be great!

  29. Fred says:

    I totally agree that shadowing is OVERRATED:

    #1. You really don’t learn all that much knowledge-wise.
    #2. Like a previous poster wrote, you really don’t know what medicine is really like until you are thrust into the world of medicine.
    #3. Admission committees could seriously care less about this useless activity.

  30. SwimSwam says:

    Robert Wood Johnson offers a formal shadowing program over the summer. I wonder if med schools would view such a program as superior to one that is “self-designed”.

  31. cadingcading says:

    I do strongly agree with the article. I am doing as much as I can to make sure that I know as much as I can about what I am getting into. However, in my state, it is not so easy to find shadowing experiences due to confidentiality laws/insurance issues. Does anyone else/author have any suggestions?

  32. Anon Patient says:

    As a female patient, there is no way I would allow a non-medical stranger to shadow in my exam room. With all the patient confidentiality breaches that you hear in the news today, I would be very surprised if any doctor in my state (Calif.) would even consider such a request.

  33. bollweavil says:

    you’re going to need more than a doctor’s approval, doesn’t the patient have to agree to this too?

  34. Darwin says:

    “…if you are still worried about answering “Why medicine?”, I would suggest doing some more shadowing”

    This is extremely disingenuous. If you are having trouble explaining your interest in medicine it is only a sign of your lack of reflection and introspection. I would not recommend looking for that one story to tell in your personal statment, but rather explore other career options, especially ones peripherally related to medicine (phD, biomedical engineering, bioinformatics, psychology, microbiology etc.) to gain a greater understanding of the niche doctors fill and if it is correct for you.

    Personally I was an engineer who worked on cochlear implants and eventually came to the conclusion I might one day actually want to put the implant into someone and follow up with them. Of my two engineering friends who went to medical school, one got interested when he built a device that predicts the progression of Parkinson’s disease by doing signal processing on a patient’s tremor. Parkinson’s patients actively sought him out at our engineering school for help. My other friend got really involved in developing the lasers now used in Lasik eye surgery. All three of us had always considered a career in medicine but found our way through very different paths.

  35. ... says:

    If you want to shadow a doc, then shadow a doc. If you don’t want to shadow a doc, then don’t.
    But, be able to provide some convincing arguments for why you did or did not shadow a doctor when that intimidating interviewer with the skeptical look on his face is asking you a bunch of questions.

    My opinion is that its really up to you. Your decisions make you who you are, don’t let some SDN article tell you what to do (but please stay within the confines of logic). Judging from my classmates, the most unorthodox and independent people make the best classmates, student physicians, and innovators.

  36. Jen says:

    I don’t think shadowing is over-rated. I think it is a great opportunity, and like the article said, I will use my shadowing experiences from overseas to explain why I want to be a doctor. Some people discover this after they shadow a doctor. It is a great way to see what they do day in and day out, ask your doctor what he thinks about his specialty, what he finds most difficult with dealing etc, and hey, you see some really cool stuff in the surgery room. Thanks to my shadowing experiences, I was able to pinpoint exactly what I want to specialize in and it confirmed my decision to go into medicine.

  37. Stewie says:

    Jen’s post above is a nice anecdote, but unfortunately is not representative of most experiences. So to the average SDN reader I would recommend exploring the idea of shadowing, but with a grain of salt. Do not go in with the expectation that you will discover your sub-specialty interest while shadowing. You will experience all fields in medical school and will thus most likely change your mind.

    Additionally, be cautious that what you are seeing may not be representative of your doctor’s overall experience in his or her field. You are only seeing a point in time. You have yet to see the plight of interns/residents/fellows in that field or had to carry the pager!

    Decide to go into medicine based on your enjoyment of the science driving medicine and your understanding of a doctor’s capabilities as well as limitations. The clinical experience and day to day medicine will come in your 3rd and 4th years. Look forward to it!

  38. James says:

    People: don’t waste your time and lives going into medicine. I am a cancer surgeon and I’m young. I love the work, but independent decision-making is dying. Pay is being downgraded by a planned 10% a year. The lobbyists for the insurance industry and the government itself want you to work for some big institution as an employee. You may not understand how bad that will be unless you imagine trying to do the ‘right’ thing in the face of opposition from a boss– only you are being pressured to KILL someone through neglect (this is not a ‘job’).
    Get out. Run. There is no hope of winning against companies like Blue Cross who have gross revenues in the $1B range.
    Society hates us, and wants us all to go down– pure class warfare against “evil, rich doctors”– despite the fact that is propaganda.

    Training is dumbing down, too, as Universities over hire faculty to make up for low volume (insurers don’t want HMO patients in expensive training hospitals).

    I repeat; run. Tell your friends. Do bench research and save thousands of lives rather than a few. Look at the trends and THINK TWICE!

  39. Natalie says:

    This is a insightful article. It actually has brought a new question in mind, regarding shadowing. In my Junior to Senior Year of Highschool I took part in a program which allowed me to do rounds at the hospital. I was able to observe and shadow doctors in the ER, OR, Radiology, Cardio…etc. Is it ok to include this as shadowing experience, although it took place almost 6 years ago?

  40. Dominic says:

    I suggest volunteering in ANY area of a hospital, regardless of potential interests, THEN shadowing. Although one may be interested in, say, surgery, one must also show compitence in ALL other areas of medicine in order to be successful in med school, and possibly surgery if that so happens to be the light at the end of the tunnel. So why not cast the nets in search of other interests? If volunteering only fuels the fire in persuit of a career in medicine, try volunteering in another specific area of the hospital (emergency, ICU, pediatrics, etc.), and THEN find shadowing experience to corrilate if the interest runs deep. Not only will it cut out alot of meaningless grey area, but you will come away with a general understanding of ALL areas within the hospital and a more refined understanding of some areas which strike your interest in particular. Mix it up, volunteer and then shadow if time permits. Its best to be well rounded.

    1. Ahmad says:

      A Medical Doctor is a professional who not only is an expert in medicine, but has also mastered the English Language. Before you give any advice, I’d suggest you know the difference between “then” and “than.”

      1. Angie says:

        If I were you, I would learn correct grammar before correcting other’s grammar. Dominic used “then” right. The word “than” is used when comparing. For example, “My grades are better THAN yours.”

  41. Kaien says:

    Excuse me. But I am a student which hasnt attended any university, yet. However I am still curious about the realistic life of being a doctor, surgeons that specialises in different areas. Is it suitable for me to approach any doctors that is listed in just the local yellow pages? What is your opinion on this?

  42. James says:

    Wow that was very helpful! He mentions in the last paragraph that he will devote an entire column to asking for letters of recommendation in the future…does anyone know where I could find this article? thanks…

  43. Winnie says:

    I’m will be shadowing a family practice physician next week. I am new to this since it’s my first time. I was wondering what would I be doing when I go shadow the doctor. Do I just ask questions? What questions are appropriate to ask? Will I get to help the doctor around? Should I introduce the patient that I’m a shadowing student?

  44. Sean Day says:

    I found this article very helpful and encouraging. I was wondering just how to go about Shadowing a Physician. My personal Dr. doesn’t seem to encourage anybody to enter medicine, so I will look elsewhere. I am also concerned about the perception of an Non-Trad looking into Ob-Gyn/Gyn-Oncolgy and getting a welcome from the Dr.’s.

  45. Pedro says:

    Ihave a question. Do you need some kind of insurance to shadow a doctor or you are included in the doctor/clinic/hospital’s insurance policy?

    Any help is well apprecaited.

  46. Adam says:

    This is a very encouraging letter; however, I see it as a bit misleading. This gives the impression that you can easily set up a shadow with any doctor with little to no effort. I tried this (with 7 doctors). I had everything set up with them. They said I could do it, all I had to do was fill out a little paperwork. The THREE hopsitals each individually contacted me and said that I was not allowed to do shadow any of the doctors because of HIPPA. I then went to several private practices in hopes of getting around all this. They too gave me the same answer. Talking with doctors in both public and private practice, I was told that it would be very difficult to near impossible to find shadowing opportunities because of HIPPA.

    All in all, HIPPA is a not a pre-med students friend. It prevents them from shadowing as much as they would like.

  47. Stephanie says:

    I read this article last night and have been thinking about it ever since. I wanted to say that I am 1. glad this article is posted and 2. glad to see from some of the comments that shadowing is hard to obtain and may not neccesarily be as “crucial” as it is made out to be.

    I am 28 years old and completing the required prerequisites for med school as my second (and last) career. I’ve been stressing about how to obtain shadowing experience because I’ve run into doctors who will not allow it because of HIPPA. I decided to try an alternate route of volunteer experience, but it’s not the same as shadowing and the areas that you can volunteer in do not really give you access to doctors. Don’t get me wrong, the volunteer experience is good, but trying to observe a doctor to determine if you are interested in said field doesn’t happen while volunteering. With any career, you don’t find out what it is like until you actually begin to work in that area. Watching someone do a job vs. doing it yourself are two different things.

  48. Patty says:

    Hello Mr Christian Becker:

    Please contact me ASAP!!! I’m having a SERIOUS issue with your website… it is URGENT!!…Please contact me ..

    Thanks,
    Patty

  49. Jen says:

    I think this is very insightful article. However, truthfully, it’s pretty hard to find a doctor that will let you shadow him/her. I found one once before, but it took nearly 4-5 months just to schedule a time that he found appropriate. After that, I tried scheduling for another day and well…I’m still waiting for a response.

    1. John says:

      I am having the same problem. I did some volunteer time with the county hospital and ended up directing patient flow in the lobby. They acted really excited about having me, but when I expressed a desire to get involved in an area involving provider/patient interaction , they blew me off and the clinic director stopped returning my emails. I shadowed a interventional radiologist for 6 hours and loved the experience. He contacted me the next day and told me to contact him on my next break from school and he would allow me to return. Several attempts later I still have no reply from him. I am 39 and working full-time while completing my pre-med course work. That makes shadowing difficult as well. As a software developer working for a managed care provider I know a great deal about HIPAA and can see how it may render shadowing a thing of the past.

  50. John says:

    Mr. Becker;

    Very nice article. I have two follow up questions, what about the opposite plenty of shadowing but no research? Should an application be updated with more or loner time of shadowing than is on my original Amcas application. John

  51. Fadel says:

    Hi,

    This has been a really interesting article . Thanks a lot you did a great favor for me of what to do in next summer . I’m going to second year of pre-med school but still I can catch up with the train I can’t describe how happy I was while reading this a lot

  52. Mario says:

    Just wanted to say thank you very much for this article. It was immensely helpful. After reading it I started searching for physicians near me and had to call about two dozen offices and hospitals before getting a bite, but I GOT IT! I live in New Jersey and one department of education in a hospital actually told me it was against state law for undergrads to observe doctors but that didn’t stop me and now I’m shadowing every Monday for the whole day with the specialist of my choice. I’m enjoying every hour of it and I hope I can skip to another doctor in the same hospital and just keep shadowing right up until my med school application.

  53. someone says:

    I think the article is great. For everyone who says shadowing is not necessary, how do you know you will like medicine? Without shadowing you will not know the day to day responsibilities of a physician. Yes clinical experience such as volunteering is great but from my personal experience…you end up doing bitch work which really has nothing to do with what physicians do.

  54. TeddyZobel says:

    I am on the process of completing my applications for Graduate schools. In some of those applications, I am required to shadow a dosimetrist. Tens of calls have been placed so far and no one is willing to hepl. I am desperate as the deadlines are approaching. Findind a physician is so fustrating I wonder how people do to be admitted.

  55. stevieee says:

    I personally think shadowing is ridiculous as far as how much some people do it. I personally think it boils down to who you know. Before I applied, I tried for months to try to shadow some docs where I live, problem is, the population in my community is VERY aware of their privacy rights (upper class area) so there was no hope even after calling 15+ offices looking for a positive response. Those kids you find that have something in the range of 100 to even 2000 hrs of physician shadowing, most of which may have been hanging out in the office or whatever most likely did so by getting hooked up with a family friend or relative and tell them, “Sure Ill let you go around the red tape and paperwork, just be quiet for the whole day while I deal with the patients”. I really hope its not weighed too heavily….

  56. Ian Artis says:

    I am a 15 year old sophomore and I currently attend high school. Is there any way I could find someone willing to let me shadow them at my age?

    1. Angie says:

      Did you ever end up finding a physician to shadow? I’m in the spot as you. 15 year old sophomore and wanting to shadow a physician. I’d like to know how that turned out for you, because at this age, I’m not even sure if I can find a someone who will let me shadow them.

  57. Anna says:

    I have to say that those interested in a medical field: DO NOT WAIT AND USE YOUR TIME WISELY!!! I am a senior at a university and I was very hesitant to shadow. My reason was that I am shy by nature and was afraid of rejections and just asking around. Finally, I realized that there is no way around and I must go in. Learn from my mistakes and do not repeat them. If you are truly interested, go ahead and start early and don’t be shy!

  58. [...] medical schools consider at when making decisions about who to admit – does the candidate have an understanding about what a medical career is [...]

  59. Alana says:

    I am taking part in a 2 week shadowing experience this summer with two physical therapists, one holistic and one western medicine emphasized. This is my first experience with medical volunteering or anything and I think this article gave me some great insight on what to expect and what is expected of me. Thank You!

  60. Rachell says:

    Christian,

    Thank you so much for this inspiring article. Before reading your acticle, I was much hesitant on what to even start out doing. I worked as a CNA for a year at a nursing home and it made me feel better when you stated…”…If you already have worked as a nurse or medical assistant with…you really don’t need any shadowing, or at least not much.” I plan on shadowing a home health care nurse as well and of course some pathologist; for this is why I am going to school for. Thank you so much for your advice and suggestions. Made me feel more at ease! :)

  61. Rachell says:

    i meant “what i am going to school for :)

  62. Anees says:

    Thank you this article was very very informative. I hope to be able to use it for my application!

  63. jake says:

    spot on mate

  64. Tanya Adkin says:

    My son is a sophomore in an all-boys Catholic high school. He currently is doubled up in sciences, takes Junior level courses, scored a 2300 on SAT and on the pre-ACT scored 100% of his math correctly..he g.p.a. is “acceptable” at 3.86, volunteers at the hospital, is doing research in physics at O.S.U. on ?stretching fibers and cancer cells, takes college classes during the summer and has already received credit for all of his freshman year English and Maths, won 3rd in the nation on his physics team and his In the Know team took first in the nation for a division 1 school….So… this looks like he is on the right course to college and medical school, but…he has been advised to shadow as many doctors as he can…starting now! I can’t imagine what kind of questions he could even ask the doctor between patients, but he has to do it. His guidance counselor has a son in medical school at O.S.U. and his resume for college was even more impressive than my 10th graders resume..his father interviewed applicants for the U.S.A.F.A. and obviously knew what they were looking for in the students. Don’t get me wrong, OSU is a fine school, but we were aiming for U.of Chicago or Harvard not OSU. Shadowing is a key part of having a great resume..but I think that there must be something else that makes the resumes of accepted students “jump off the desk” for the interviewers and I just haven’t figured out what that is…Is there really such a thing as a “golden resume”? I’d love to know what it is…

  65. Oneka Saleem says:

    Hi, I’m a sophomore in college.Pre med is my major.I was wondering if it was a good idea for me to start shadowing now,or should I wait until my senior year?

  66. Dustin says:

    I was wondering what one should do when they are full time at work and full time at school while raising toddler two year olds. My father is in the medical field and has been my entire life, so I know what medicine is, and what it entails, but I would like to have a stellar resume because I am about as non traditional as you can be. Im 34 years old and have a ready made family. It has been my dream to pursue a career in medicine but have been scared of the proposition until my children were born. Better late than never. Any suggestions? I am pre-med now in undergrad.

  67. Teressa says:

    I find shadowing to be really fun and has confirmed for me that I want to be in medicine. However I agree with other posters that it is NOT easy to set-up and do. I have asked everyone I know to set me up with shadow opportunities, and most of them have fallen through. I was lucky enough to get one really great opportunity and I shadowed him for about 6 months every other week for 4-6 hours. I think that some people might find it excessive, but he is the one who wrote my recommendation so I wanted to make sure that he knew me fairly well.

    Now I am looking for a new long term one like that for if I need to reapply with new recommendations, so far no luck.

  68. Gopi says:

    Finding a great doc to shadow is a bit difficult especially since not all docs are great teachers. I was lucky enough to start shadowing a medical director of the intensivist unit in a hospital. I’ve gotten stuck in the doctors’ lounge while she had to go to some meetings I couldn’t attend but that was the best thing ever. I ended up meeting so many docs and even had docs introduce themselves to me! I ended up with the contact info for 3-5 docs who all offered to let me shadow them whenever I wanted. Plus the intensivist I’m shadowing really makes sure I understand the basic concepts behind various diseases before seeing individual patients. I would say definitely start out with a primary care physician and then move your way up to the surgical stuff it that’s what interests you. Really depends on the doc you get and if he/she really knows how to teach you without interrupting his/her schedule. Also, definitely try to get in on daily rounds. You’ll end up meeting a lot of nurses, PAs, etc. Don’t discount them! When the doc you’re shadowing is busy in a meeting or with patients, they are usually always willing to show/teach you stuff. Hospital shadowing is sooo much better than a small private practice. Makes for a great networking opportunity!

  69. michelle says:

    I may be going out on a limb here posting a question since the last one was from 2011, but coming from a junior in college (not taking the MCATS till next year- long story) , would it look good on my application to show I have experience in hospitals at this time instead of later on? Should it be the early the experience the better? Thanks!

  70. Lhakpa Sherpa says:

    Wow that was really helpful! Thanks!
    I have a question though. I am currently a high school senior and going to community college next year for one year. Should I do shadowing before I go to college?

  71. anna says:

    Hi .I live in Canada and my son is planning to go to med -school , but doctor shadowing is iligal here, what can he do ? if he does doctor shadowing in another country , do they accept it or not ?

  72. Susanna says:

    I just graduated from high school. I volunteered a LOT at a local hospital of mine. I worked in three different departments and got to know some people. I did it because of volunteer hours but I also like the tasks that volunteers do. It’s sort of mindless working but you get to know some little nitty gritty stuff about hospitals, like hospital equipments and supplies for patients, etc. And I was lucky because one of the staffs had a doctor in the family and she helped me arrange a job shadow with him. And also, since I’m a volunteer, I already went through hippa training and I had my background checked, etc. I tried contacting many doctors but the message never gets past the receptionist desk and I can’t ever find a direct contact number or email to the doctor. So anyway, it doesn’t really work to just volunteer in the hospital. I volunteered for about a year and a half and I was one of the really diligent workers that silently but efficiently and quickly did all my work. The staff loved me. I just wanted to tell how I got to job shadow. For those people that don’t have connections, it can be really difficult to get a job shadow. I just wanted to share how I got mine. Although the doctor that I shadowed was just a hospitalist and all we did was pretty much just do rounds and paperwork, etc, I showed interest in surgery and he said he would talk to one of the surgeons that he knows if I can shadow him perhaps. And I’m very excited for that. Because theoretically, I feel like I can handle everything and i think nothing is impossible. But I’ve never actually seen blood gushing and actual human organs. I’ve only seen dead, preserved bodies and I’ve only dissected a fetal pig that has already been preserved. So I think it does help to do it before you start learning the stuff because you want to know your answer BEFORE you start the journey through medical school.

  73. Susanna says:

    Also, just to add a little bit more in advice to finding a doctor to shadow. Although I was lucky and got the opportunity through one of the staffs because she offered to me first after I said I want to become a doctor, I think I could’ve asked one of the doctors in one of the other departments that I volunteered at. I volunteered there for over a year and since I’m a familiar face, I could’ve just walked up to one of the doctors and ask if I can shadow. I was thinking about it for a while but I didn’t have a courage because the doctor in my department doesn’t smile much. I was a bit intimidated. But I know he’s really nice. I mean, if you want to become a doctor or if you want to get accepted to college, volunteering is something you should consider anyway. Make something out of it rather than just doing tedious work.

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