Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner
Applying to a health professional education program is a significant decision. Schools will want to be sure that you have a clear understanding of the career to which you are committing yourself. For this reason, shadowing is a standard component of many applicants’ preparation for their program of choice. Finding individuals to shadow can be challenging, however. Finding health professionals can be especially difficult if one does not come from a family of medical workers. Fortunately, you can use these strategies to find a health professional to shadow regardless of your level of connection to the medical field.
- Use Your Network
Even if you don’t have any direct connections to people in your career of interest, you may know someone who does. Ask family, friends, or teachers if they have any personal contacts in the field who might be amenable to taking on an observer. Pre-health advisors can also be a helpful resource for this. It is quite probable that there are several medical professionals within your social network, if only a couple of degrees of separation away.
- Ask Your Doctor
We all spend some time in the clinic or the hospital for our own medical needs. Take advantage of these opportunities to connect with the professionals you interact within these settings. Your doctor may be willing to allow you to shadow them, or otherwise, they may have colleagues who will take observers. Next time you see them, mention that you are interested in a career in the medical field and try to guide the conversation toward an inquiry about shadowing. It can’t hurt to ask!
- Find a Shadowing Program
Some organizations, such as student groups or hospitals, have shadowing programs that match pre-health students with medical professionals. These programs do the work of finding someone to shadow for you. Remember that an application is almost always required for such programs, so this may not be the easiest or quickest way to begin observing in the medical field. Additionally, be aware that you may not be able to choose precisely which role or medical specialty you will shadow. Despite these limitations, shadowing programs are great resources and often can provide an opportunity to gain many hours of observation time.
- Get Involved
If you currently have few personal connections to the medical field, branch out and make some! Getting involved with research or volunteering is a great way to expand your network and regularly interact with health professionals. Look for hospital volunteering programs that put you in close contact with the medical staff – some will even encourage pre-health students to look for shadowing opportunities while volunteering. If research is your interest, this can also be an excellent way to meet medical professionals, as many biomedical or clinical research teams include at least one clinician. But of course, the primary reason for pursuing research or volunteering should be interest in the activity itself – making great connections is a secondary benefit of your involvement.
- Cold Emailing
If all else fails, you can always try contacting local medical professionals directly to inquire about shadowing. A brief, professional email introducing yourself and stating your desire to observe them at work is a great way to start. It may also help to draw some connection between you and the person you are contacting, such as interest in their medical specialty or some shared experience or characteristic (alma mater, hometown, gender/ethnicity, etc.).
Be prepared to receive some “no’s” or no response from a significant proportion of those you contact and don’t be discouraged by this. If you reach out to enough individuals, there is a high likelihood that at least one will be willing to allow you to shadow.
Though shadowing opportunities can be challenging to find, they are certainly worth the effort. It is advisable to shadow in various medical settings and specialties to help improve your understanding of what type of career is best for you. If you struggle to find clinicians willing to have you observe them at work, employ some of these strategies and a bit of persistence, and you are likely to be successful. Good luck, and happy shadowing!
While there is no substitute for in-person shadowing, Activity Finder can help you identify virtual shadowing opportunities.
Julia Bauman recently received a B.S. in Neurobiology from the University of Washington, Seattle and is currently a research associate at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She plans to pursue an M.D./Ph.D. in the future.