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How To Get The Most Out of Shadowing

10 min


A premed student wearing scrubs speaking with a doctor that she is shadowing in a hospital hallway.


Shadowing is an extracurricular that most premeds participate in to fulfill requirements for medical school. However, it is also an important part of your journey in understanding medicine and connecting with your reasons for pursuing the field. 



What Is Shadowing?


When shadowing, you will be following a doctor or healthcare professional in a clinical setting while they see patients and complete other tasks that are part of their responsibility. You will not be directly involved in any facet of patient care, however. Shadowing is also an activity that helps medical schools determine whether their applicants truly understand the career they wish to pursue – how would you know you want to be a doctor, having never experienced what the work and lifestyle entails?

Many premeds have shared that shadowing can end up feeling like you’re just following a doctor around. However, the experience can be much more than that! Shadowing can be what you make of it and may end up as a meaningful experience for you while giving you something interesting to talk about during interviews. It may even change your perspective of medicine and help you develop your unique answer to the ever-looming question of “why medicine?”.



How To Get Shadowing Opportunities


There are various ways to get started with shadowing. First, you can call, email, or communicate in other ways to any physician’s office or hospital to see if they have any open opportunities for shadowing. You can even ask your primary care doctor! Don’t hesitate to contact physicians or other healthcare professionals that you know, as they can often help connect you within their network. In addition, if your school has a premed advising committee, they may have resources available to you. Don’t be shy! Oftentimes, physicians are happy to share their experience in their field and provide educational opportunities for interested premeds.



How To Get More Out of Shadowing


When shadowing, how can you develop a meaningful relationship with the physician you work with, and learn more than you would have by simply observing them?

First, do not be afraid to ask questions! This is a great way to learn about things that are going on during the patient-physician exchange that you might not understand. It is also a great way to spark a dialogue with the physician that you are shadowing and show them that you are truly curious about the work that they do. Having a deeper understanding can help you feel more familiar with the work you are doing and more comfortable in your role—and the knowledge can only serve to help you in the future. It is incredibly beneficial to understand the thought process and ideas behind certain procedures or practices instead of passively observing. Asking engaging questions and interacting with the medicine makes you a part of the care team and can make your experience more fun!  

Second, try to find some time that the physician has off, maybe during lunch or a break, so that you can sit down and have a conversation with them. During this one-on-one time, talk a little bit about yourself and your premed “journey” along with your aspirations for your future career. Feel free to include other medical experiences you may have had, i.e., clinical volunteering or research. In addition, don’t be afraid to ask the physician about some aspects of their journey through premed and medical school, and see if they have any advice or thoughts. You never know what advice somebody might have to offer you, especially somebody who has gone through the process and works in the field. They may be able to give you a personal insight into their specialty, recommendations they have for certain medical schools, or even possible connections they be able to use to help you with obtaining other immersive experiences. Remember that the physician you shadow is in a great position to mentor you or guide you on your own path and that they can be an incredibly helpful resource!  

Third, try shadow more than one doctor, across multiple fields. Shadowing a dermatologist is great, but there are so many other different kinds of physicians out there, and their work is very, very different. Try to shadow at least two different specialties and think about the way they are different and the ways they are the same. Think critically about the day-to-day of each physician’s work, their hours, their patient interactions, their setting, their team. When you are with these respective physicians, something you may want to ask about is their work/life balance and their perceived difficulty of their work and even of other specialties. This is a great way to gain an inside perspective into various fields and gauge what areas of medicine you may have an interest in. In addition, it may make you stray from a field that you were previously interested in, into a field you had not even considered. 

Shadowing is a great way to fulfill many medical schools’ expectations of you as an applicant, but it is also a great way to experience medicine firsthand, and further your understanding of the profession. It allows you to see the patient-physician relationship in action and gain valuable insight about the field of your choice, but by interacting more actively with the doctor you are shadowing and developing a relationship, you can gain a lot more from shadowing than most expect. Good luck in your shadowing experiences and in your application cycles!

If you are looking for any help with your application process, admissions essay editing and writing, or MCAT, Elite Medical Prep is here to help! Schedule a consultation today to see how we can help you!

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