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Ultimate Guide To Doctor Shadowing [Step-By-Step Tips]

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Being in a challenging field like medicine requires drive and tenacity, but the most important thing you need to have as a pre-medical student is the strong desire of wanting to be a medical practitioner in a particular specialty. One of the ways you can determine for yourself if you want to pursue a particular specialty, or medicine in general, is doctor shadowing.

In this post, we’ll be talking about doctor shadowing – what does it mean, how to land doctor shadowing opportunities, and what are the skills you can gain that would be advantageous not just for your portfolio but the way you see yourself as a future doctor.

What Does Shadowing a Doctor Mean?

doctor shadowing

So, what does doctor shadowing mean? Shadowing a doctor means observing in person the daily typical activities of a physician or a surgeon in a hospital, clinic, or operating room.

You get to be with the doctor you are shadowing for a specific course of time and get to see for yourself how a physician or surgeon does their work in their respective specialties.

Doctor shadowing is an essential experience for you to decide if medicine in general or a specialty in mind is the right path for you. You can shadow doctors that belong in different specialties, that’s if situation permits, to be familiar in the medical environments in these specialties.

It also gives you a forward push in your applications and interviews for medical school.

FYI: If you want to hear my favorite tips on shadowing a doctor – check out this video below!

How Do You Find Doctor Shadowing Opportunities

doctor shadowing

Connections are really important when searching for doctor shadowing opportunities. If you have a wide network of connections, that would do you greatly since not all physicians and surgeons you know would accept your request. Thus, you have more options.

You can search for a doctor to shadow if you have relationships with your own doctors or if you know some doctors from your friends and family. Asking them first wouldn’t hurt and could potentially save you some time.

You could also ask your professors and teachers if they know of doctors that students have shadowed before. Doctors who have been shadowed before would likely accept your shadowing request if the situation and time permits since they take an interest in teaching aspiring doctors.

If you know of any friends, classmates, or acquaintances in pre-med or medical schools that have shadowed a doctor before, you could ask them for more details. Plus, if you just gather a bit more courage, you can even ask them to refer you.

If you’re in college, you can approach your college director and ask for him to tap into the school’s connections with medical schools or hospitals.

Searching for practicing physicians or surgeons on the website of clinics, hospitals, and medical schools is also another way for you to find doctor shadowing opportunities. Any doctor that belongs in a specialty that piques your interest could be a candidate.

How To Ask To Shadow A Doctor

doctor shadowing

Now, if you already have an idea of who to shadow, the next thing for you to do is ask him whether he’d be willing to be shadowed and for how long. Sounds easy, but there are a few things you have to consider before barging into that doctor’s office saying you’d be observing him for the whole day.

Emails

The most obvious and convenient way to contact a doctor you want to shadow is through email. Briefly introduce yourself and indicate where you go to school. Express why you want to shadow him and what sparked your interest to be in the medical field.

Write the email in a formal tone. Be professional and courteous as much as possible. Don’t make it look like you’re going to die if they don’t accept your request. Keep it clean, brief, and straightforward.

Physicians or surgeons have a busy schedule and it could take them quite a while before they can even open their emails. You don’t want to write a long and detailed letter and consume their time too much.

Though not required, some doctors would like to know more about you before they consider your request. Hence, attaching a resume could give you a little push forward.

What I have learned from my experience is that it’s hard for a doctor to ignore a shadowing request if you’re an acquaintance of some of the doctor’s connections. That’s right, we go back to the basics – connections. It’s alright to mention a name if it helps your request to get noticed.

You could also search for templates to follow in writing your request for shadowing. You can take a look at this template to have an idea of how to compose emails on shadowing requests and what to write if the doctor refuses.

Calls

Another option for you to consider is calling the reception of the hospital, or better yet the assistant of the doctor you wish to shadow. Remember, it’s a lot easier to ignore an email than a phone call. Calling is an efficient way for you to quickly schedule out the shadowing.

However, even if calling is efficient, this could be a disadvantage because the message that you want to be relayed onto the physician or surgeon you wish to shadow may be lost in translation.

With emails, you could express your wish to shadow the doctor yourself and you have time to carefully construct it before sending it. Calls give you the advantage of efficiency but emails are the way to go if you want your message to be received the way it is.

Of course, you can try and ask the receptionist or assistant to write down some key details of your shadowing request to ensure that your message goes through the way you want it to, at the very least.

In-Person Request

If you’re in a situation wherein your time and schedule permits, visiting the hospital or clinic in person with your request letter and resume is another option for you to consider. You can leave these documents at the front desk and ask for these to be relayed to the physician or surgeon you wish to shadow.

Making the effort by going there yourself enables your request to be processed as soon as the doctor lays hands on your documents. Plus, it gives them the impression that you’re determined and serious in this pursuit.

If a physician or a surgeon does not agree with your request, kindly thank them for taking the time to consider you and to respond to you. You can even politely ask them if it would be possible for them to refer you to other doctors who may be up to be shadowed.

Tips For Shadowing A Doctor

doctor shadowing

What To Do Pre-Shadowing

Once you have received confirmation that you are allowed to proceed with the doctor shadowing, you need to familiarize yourself with important details about your shadowing experience.

Know where is the hospital or clinic and how to get there to avoid being late.

Research more about the background of the physician or surgeon to be shadowed – his specialty, medical education details, nature of his work, and even his schedule. This information is usually available on the hospital or clinic’s website so make sure to check there.

You should also know for how long the doctor shadowing will take place so you could get an idea of how and when you should ask questions.

Plus, confirm if there is any paperwork that must be signed and completed prior to the date of the shadowing. If you’re a minor, your parents or guardians may be asked to sign the documents. Some hospitals would even require you to process identification badges.

If no one is informing you of what you should prepare prior to the shadowing date, asking wouldn’t hurt. Hospitals and clinics could get busy at times and they won’t always have the time to follow up on you. If this is the case, simply just ask.

Widen Your Choices

Some med students, and even a few pre-meds, already have a specialty in mind what they want to pursue. Some could even be dead set on the specialty they want to dive into! This urges them to just shadow doctors in the specialty he desires.

However, always keep in mind that the purpose of doctor shadowing is for you to explore and dip your toes into different specialties. You could be set on a specialty but there may be other specialties that could pique your interest and could be a better fit for you.

Explore as many specialties as you can as long as time allows.

I could also advise you to try asking the physician or surgeon what were the other specialties they considered before pursuing the specialty they are in now.

This enables them to talk about different specialties and opens a door of networks in other specialties that you can tap into. Your shadowing physician or surgeon will most likely have some connections outside their specialty, always remember this.

At the end of the shadowing experience, when you’re bidding farewells to the doctor, you could subtly tap him on the shoulder to refer you to other physicians or surgeons that may be available for shadowing.

Know When To Ask Questions

Timing is of the essence when asking questions. These doctors are still doing their daily job and you could only think of yourself as a spectator. You shouldn’t interrupt the physician or surgeon while they’re seeing patients or in the operating room. Of course, this is all just common sense.

You may have to hold onto all your questions until the physician has time in between appointments or once you feel that the surgeon is ready to engage in your questions once they have finished surgery.

Prepare some of your questions beforehand so that when the right timing comes, you won’t miss it.

If the doctor asks you if you have any questions, don’t brush it off and grab the opportunity. Some questions just can’t be answered by Google, you know!

Of course, you can also ask a physician assistant or nurse since they work alongside with the doctor to squeeze out more information about the specialty they’re in. You just have to consider the right timing as well because they’re busy too.

Always Be On Time

always be on time

I think this could come off as common logic, as well, but I can’t emphasize enough the importance of being on time.

Ensure that you always arrive on time. In fact, I encourage you to come at least 15 minutes earlier. Being on time gives the impression of professionalism and respect towards not just the physician but to the healthcare staff, as well.

But of course, sometimes, things don’t always go as planned. Unexpected delays could happen and traffic jams are bound to happen here and there. Of course, it’s your responsibility to foresee unexpected detours and avoid them as much as possible.

However, if the world is just not on your side that one morning, inform the front desk of your situation and ask them to inform your shadowing doctor that you’re going to be late.

Practice Professionalism When Asked To Leave The Room

Your shadowing doctor is required to introduce you to each patient and explain to them that you’re a pre-med student observing the nature of the medical field. It’s completely allowed to engage in conversation. Just keep in mind that if you have signed a HIPAA compliance document, you must keep all information about the patient private.

However, some patients may not be comfortable having a student observer around. If an instance like this occurs, just simply exit the room and don’t take it the wrong way. Be professional and understanding of the patient’s wishes.

Write Down Notes

Bring a notebook with you at all times to write down your observations and insights. The hospital or clinic can be fast-paced, depending on the specialty you are observing. A day can pass by very quickly and you may forget some details that could be critical in your applications and interviews. Make sure to take down notes.

Show Respect To Everyone, Not Just The Doctor

You’re in a place where every element makes up a whole. The hospital is like a human body and the healthcare workers that make up this body work collectively. You can’t expect to be disrespectful to the healthcare staff while you put on smiles in front of your shadowing physicians.

One way or another, they could easily inform the physician of your behavior since they have known him longer than you do. Hence, your image can be damaged and can reflect very poorly on your applications.

Of course, it’s not just your applications that can be affected but think about their position, as well. Don’t add up to their problems.

What To Do Post-Shadowing

what to do post shadowing

After doctor shadowing has been said and done, it’s important for you to express your gratitude. Even a simple email will do, it wouldn’t take you more than an hour to write an email as a small token of appreciation.

I also advise you to write letters to the nurses and staff. These tokens of gratitude could brighten up their day, and something to brighten up their day is always something to look forward to.

Once you have become a licensed physician or surgeon and have practiced your craft in the future, you would know that fuzzy feeling inside your belly when an aspiring doctor appreciates and thanks you for your work.

Request for a letter of recommendation right away and don’t wait to request for one just when the need arises. You want the experience to be fresh to the doctor so that the letter of recommendation speaks true to the experience itself.

Dress Code For Shadowing A Doctor

Dressing up is a form of communication. It’s a way of presenting yourself to other people. If dressed properly, you could leave a great impression on the physician and healthcare staff. That’s why it’s important for you to dress up properly during the course of your doctor shadowing.

Men are often advised to wear slacks, a button-down shirt, and dress shoes. Blazers would look nice just make sure you’re comfortable. Neckties add a little bit of touch of professionalism but they’re mostly optional. Make sure that your clothes fit nicely and look sharp and clean.

men dress code for shadowing

Source: Gentleman’s Gazette

For women, choose an outfit that showcases modesty and professionalism while also enabling you to move freely and comfortably throughout the day. A blouse, closed-toe shoes, and dress slacks will do the trick. You are not prohibited to wear dresses and skirts as long as it’s appropriate in length and size. I just wouldn’t advise you to wear high heels because remember, you’d be standing and walking all day.

women dress code for shadowing

Source: Pinterest

FAQs About Doctor Shadowing

Can You Get Into Medical School Without Shadowing?

You may have been brought to this blog post in the first place because you’re in need of doctor shadowing opportunities. This must mean that the medical school you’re planning to apply for requires shadowing hours.

A lot of medical schools across North America require students to have some doctor shadowing experiences. The number of hours varies depending on the requirement of the medical school.

Some schools would only require 24 hours, while others require at least 75 hours of doctor shadowing experience. If the medical school you plan to apply for requires shadowing experience, don’t look at it as some kind of obligation. Instead, take it in as an opportunity. 

Technically, yes, you can get into medical school without shadowing depending on where you’re applying for. However, the moment you stop seeing it as a requirement and as an opportunity instead – you just gave yourself a further push in your medical career.

Doctor shadowing allows you to build your application to medical school and it gives you an advantage in interviews. Your interviewer may have the impression that you’re dead set in getting in since you have spent all those hours on shadowing and have determined for yourself that you really want to be in the medical field.

But of course, if you’re not comfortable enough to shadow a doctor, there are other ways for you to determine if medicine is the right path for you and to build your application. Being a hospice volunteer, certified nursing assistant (CNA) or volunteer EMT are some of the great alternative ways for you to gain clinical experience. Read more here.

How Long Should I Shadow A Doctor For?

The duration of the shadowing should work well with the schedule of the doctor. You could be extremely eager and enthusiastic in shadowing the doctor you are reaching out to, but just shadow the doctor for as long as his schedule permits.

It’s possible for you to just shadow a doctor for a day or an entire week. You could also opt to shadow them for a few hours over the course of several weeks or months.

Once the course of the shadowing is done, you could start reaching out to other physicians and surgeons or follow up on your previous shadowing requests.

Best Specialties to Shadow

The specialties you can gain doctor shadowing experiences from mostly boils down to your preferences. But I do recommend you to shadow physicians or surgeons from specialties you wouldn’t normally consider.

It’s alright if you have been eyeing a particular specialty for a long time, but consider expanding your choices. You may find yourself second-guessing that another specialty may be a better fit for you.

But some interesting specialties for you to consider are Emergency Medicine, Gastroenterology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, and even General or Specialized Surgery.

Skills Gained From Shadowing

You can pick up a few skills from your time in doctor shadowing and internalize everything you have learned. You will learn how it’s not always easy to talk to your patients and you could develop your empathy and social skills to enable yourself to better understand your patients in the future.

Depending on the specialty you are shadowing in, you will realize that it’s not just a regular 9 to 5 job. Every day could be different, and it’s going to be a rollercoaster.

You’re going to have to learn how to adapt in different environments and build a strong mindset for you to endure all the hardships you’re going to face in this field.


We give credit to Princeton Review, AAMC, and Join Atlantis as they served as sources for this blog post.

So that’s it for our ultimate guide on doctor shadowing! I hope this blog post has given you informative insights and advice for you to complete your doctor shadowing pursuits!

If you have enjoyed this post, go check out more of our blog posts!

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