Make the Most Out of Your Shadowing Experience


March 16, 2020

Shadowing is a great way to enhance your candidacy and show admissions committees you truly understand what a career in medicine entails. To begin with, we highly recommend that you share your everyday experience during shadowing with your close ones such as your parents, close friends, or maintain a shadowing journal to document your everyday experience at the clinic or hospital. Here are are a few ways in which shadowing experiences can be used to enhance your application:

Using Shadowing Experience for a Letter of Recommendation:

If you were able to build a fairly positive rapport with the medical professional you shadowed, then go ahead and ask for a letter of recommendation. However, an LOR from a physician also implies that you have spent a considerable amount of time in his premises which means he had enough time to observe you. Thus, if you lodged only 24-40 hours with your physician, then asking for an LOR is not a good idea as the person writing the letter probably doesn’t know you and won’t be able to write a strong letter. However, if you were able to lodge several hours over a period of a month or more, then go ahead and ask for the LOR. If your writer asks you for input regarding the content of the letter, stress the fact that it should highlight your sincerity and passion towards medicine, along with qualities such as being compassionate, kind and inquisitive. Needless to say, you have to spend a considerable amount of time and effort building a good interpersonal relationship with the physician in first place. Talk to your Pre-med Guide and ask for his advice on how you can do so.

Using Shadowing Experience for writing your Personal Statement:

The personal statement is an extremely important part of your medical school application. A good essay can significantly enhance your chances of being selected in the next stage of the admission process. Writing a winning personal statement is literally about how well you are able to communicate your personality, life-experiences, and commitment to medicine to the admission committee. As pre-med students, life can often be very secluded, mainly revolving around academics. Thus, writing about your experiences while shadowing a physician can add concrete proof of your experiences in the medical world. This is all the more important if your choice of medical school has clearly stipulated that shadowing or volunteering work is mandatory.

The best way to put your shadowing experience into words is to begin by reflecting on it. Some pre-med students maintain a daily ‘shadowing journal’ so that when it is time to write down their personal statement, they can easily refresh their memory and not miss out on any significant experience. While you are reflecting, think about the things which you found personally touching, say, the birth of a child, or the first time you held the hand of a kid getting stitches! While you are thinking about these things, write down roughly how these things made you feel, how the on duty physician approached them, how the patient reacted, and how eventually it inspired you by teaching lessons of resilience, dedication, focus and compassion.

If you spend enough time reflecting, you will find that your shadowing experiences are rich with instances of deep significance. That is why journaling is a great exercise to gather your experiences in a wholesome way. Once you have reflected on your experiences, it is time to tell the story of your journey towards medicine. We encourage you to discuss this with your mentor, and seek their opinion on your initial drafts of your personal statement.

Remember that writing the perfect personal statement requires dedication and time to work through various drafts. Ultimately, your essay experiences should reflect lessons and fundamental qualities that are desirable in a medical professional – compassion, integrity, resilience, grit, dedication, problem solving abilities, love for medicine and most importantly a passion for community service. Needless to say, a good and successful shadowing experience will end up teaching you about all of these qualities.

Using Shadowing Experience for getting an edge during Interviews:

Interviews are the only chance the admission committees get to directly interact with you and therefore, they are extremely attentive towards your answers in general. They are not only looking to validate what they learned about you through your application, but also look for any red flags.

Therefore, it is very important to go into the interview well-prepared. Your mentor can play a huge role here. During interviews, it is possible to get caught off-guard. Remember to always be honest and answer questions truthfully. Don’t try to make your experience sound more glamorous than it was. Rather, focus on how it taught you values such as humility, sincerity and integrity. You can also expect some technical questions based on your shadowing experience, particularly related to the field of medicine which your physician belonged to. Prepare a list of questions before-hand. If your shadowing experience was a major highlight of your essay, then brace yourself for every possible question related to it.


Shadowing is an excellent way of learning about the demands and realities of a career in medicine. Before you start looking for shadowing opportunities remember a few things:

  • Ideally, you should not shadow a physician who is related to you. This includes your close kin like parents, siblings, cousins, relatives etc. Instead, ask them to provide you with quality referrals of colleagues you could shadow. It is important that any  letter of recommendation you receive comes from someone who is not biased.
  • Some pre-med students are so passionate and eager that they end up taking on a lot of extracurricular activities at the same leaving little time for studying. While shadowing is important don’t let pursuing too many activities affect your grades.
  • It is prudent to go into shadowing without expecting too much. You are there for observing, not gaining any first-hand knowledge. Some students find themselves disappointed because they went in expecting “a lot of action”. Shadowing a physician is meant to provide a holistic and wholesome experience of the medical field. You can eventually ask your mentor physician to permit you to witness a surgery, but don’t make things difficult for them. If your physician asks for your help, good enough, but if he doesn’t, try to stay out of the way.
  • Don’t shadow a physician just for the sake of making your application look good. Remember that the interview committee will easily smell your insincerity during the interview process. Similarly, don’t try to make your 24 hours of shadowing sound more impressive than they were. You are not fooling anyone.
  • While it is advisable to gain a variety of experiences by shadowing different physicians, don’t hop from one doctor to another too fast. Take your time to understand the process and demands of medicine with each physician you decide to shadow. Ultimately, the shadowing experience is meant to introduce you to what it entails to be a medical professional in any capacity.
  • Going to a hospital or a clinic is serious. It is not just a place of work, but also a place of treating people who are vulnerable and suffering. Therefore, you must dress appropriately and professionally.
  • Always remember that the patients around you are not familiar with you. Privacy and confidentiality is a huge part of medical integrity. Sometimes it can happen that the patients does not be comfortable in your presence. If you sense any hesitation on their part, excuse yourself from the situation. The patient’s well-being always comes first. It is advisable that you go through the HIPAA (i.e. Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) to learn about patient confidentiality.

It is very important that you find a good medical professional to shadow, preferably one that can teach you and engage you in their day-to-day tasks. For more guidance on how to go about shadowing a physician, refer to our article here.

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