How To Shadow A Physician: A Guide


March 16, 2020

Shadowing a physician is one of the most commonly advised extra-curricular activities for prospective medical students.

Medicine is highly rewarding profession in terms of personal fulfillment, especially if you are passionate towards community service and helping others. Physicians and healthcare providers are professionals who deeply interact with people on a daily basis. Learning by observing them in action is the best possible way to enhance one’s personal understanding of the profession. Shadowing a physician is a great way to expose oneself to the demands of the medical profession. It can also inspire you to take your pre-med preparation more seriously and steer clear of any distractions. There are several advantages a pre-med student can reap if he sincerely dedicates himself to the process of shadowing. Some of them are the following:

  • If you are still unsure and confused about whether you should pursue a career in medicine and healthcare, then shadowing a physician can really help you make a better and more informed decision for yourself.
  • Shadowing experiences can help you and inspire you to choose the right elective classes that can further enhance your understanding of the medical profession.
  • As a pre-med student, the world of medicine remains an abstract idea, limited only to MCAT preparation and the application process. But putting yourself through the process of shadowing can remarkably expose you to the real world of medicine and what it truly entails.
  • A letter of recommendation coming from a Physician is highly appreciated by application screeners and admission committees.
  • Gaining clinical experience by shadowing a physician considerably enhances your understanding of the doctor-patient relationship, making you more conscious of your future responsibilities as a medical student.
  • Your experiences while shadowing will give you enough topics and experiences to talk about both in your personal statement as well as your secondary applications and interviews.
  • Electing to go through the process of shadowing is a great way of showing your commitment and passion towards medicine and medical profession in general.

How to go-about selecting the right physician to shadow?

Finding meaningful opportunities to shadow a physician can be quite difficult. Thus, it is advisable to approach the initial challenges with patience and resilience. Here’s how you can go about it:

  • It is highly recommended that you begin the process of finding a physician or doctor at least a month before you wish to begin. Doctors and physicians are extremely busy individuals, which means you will have to adjust to their availability and not your personal schedule.
  • It is best to begin by talking to your mentor or academic counselor. Sometimes these people can introduce you to their own connections who you can shadow.
  • If you have already prepared a list of schools that you will be applying to or wish to apply to, then make sure to check their standing rules on Shadowing a doctor, or rules relating to Clinical Experience. This is extremely important if you want to reap the maximum benefit out of your shadowing experiences later.
  • Talk to your mentor about the various sub-specialties of Medicine and decide which one intrigues or excites you the most, and then make a list of all physicians in and around your community practicing in that field.
  • Once you have a tentative list of the physicians you would be interested in shadowing, begin by contacting them by email to check if they offer shadowing opportunities to pre-med students. Some hospitals have a volunteer office that handles such requests. Be extremely polite and respectful, and express your genuine interest in learning more about their profession.
  • It is best to find your first shadowing opportunities in the primary care field, as this setting will allow you to see a variety of patients and conditions. You will be exposed to the everyday challenges of a physician, and learn about qualities such as compassion, attention and communication.
  • If you have a family doctor who has been associated with your family for a long-time, then you can begin by asking him/her if they are open for shadowing opportunities. Even if he is not available he might put you in touch with other colleagues.

What to do while shadowing?

Shadowing a physician

The purpose of shadowing a physician lies in the exposure to healthcare one gets from this exercise. The basic things you have to keep in mind while shadowing are simple:

  • Pay attention to your physician, observe his daily routine, observe the way he or she interacts with the patients and solves their problems, observe how he interacts with other professionals, and notice how he personally responds to the everyday challenges of the medical profession.
  • Gradually develop a good relationship with your physician. Talk to the physician, ask questions, ask for his advice about your professional challenges. A physician can potentially guide you and also become your career advisor.
  • Take advantage of the opportunity to interact and connect with patients. Connecting with patients on a personal level is both humbling and inspiring. It can also be very insightful, giving you a fresh perspective and expand the horizons of your medical knowledge.

Shadowing is a multi-dimensional exercise and has to be approached from various standpoints. Apart from being incredibly brilliant in their chosen field of expertise, medical professionals are also excellent communicators and problem solvers. Shadowing helps you to observe these qualities from up close.

Every shadowing experience is different depending the setting and speciality of the physician you shadow. The experience you can get in a community clinic will be different from what you would get in a top-notch research hospital. Ideally, it would be good to experience all of these settings to get a better idea of what is out there and what you are most interested in.

Maintain a personal ‘Shadowing-journal’:

Our mentors who have themselves been through the clinical exercises required for creating a winning med school application highly recommend that you maintain a ‘Shadowing-journal’. It is an everyday account of your experiences while shadowing.

A shadowing-journal can significantly help you integrate your overall experience while shadowing into something coherent and meaningful. This is extremely important because shadowing a physician instantly exposes you to the good and bad of medicine.  Journaling can help you reflect on your experiences, especially when you sit down to write your personal statement.

How much time should you spend shadowing a physician?

The answer to this really lies in your personal experience and objectives. Some schools stipulate a minimum of forty hours of shadowing, but if you are also looking to get a strong letter of recommendation, then it is best to spend as much time as possible in order to build a meaningful relationship with your mentor.

Shadowing a physician

While it is great that you chose to shadow a physician to gain deeper insights into the world of medicine, your time and effort may go to waste if you don’t learn to properly talk about your experience at the different stages of your medical school application process. Click here to learn how to best use your experiences for greater benefit and also the common mistakes to avoid.

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