Shadowing basics

Gaining exposure to the healthcare profession is integral to one’s success in deciding whether to apply to professional school and ultimately will provide you with the experiences to draw from when it comes time to write your personal statement and during interviews.  Yesterday during NICU rounds, we had the pleasure of having a visiting student join us.  It was a good experience for both parties involved because we got the opportunity to hone our teaching skills and she had the chance to see actual ward rounds, learn about a few of the interesting syndromes we currently have on our team and get a little glimpse into her future.  Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with her and find out what her connection to our attending was, and how she made arrangements to shadow the team but none the less, her excitement and enthusiasm spurred me to post today about shadowing.

Your approaching summer vacation is a great time to get some shadowing experience in, and I encourage all current pre-professional students to take the initiative and secure some shadowing opportunities this summer.  This is especially important for sophomore students who will be preparing their application and personal statement in a year and thus will need clinical exposure experiences for personal statements and the AMCAS application.   It’s never too early to start shadowing however, so if you’re a freshman or even a high school student who aspires to a career in healthcare this goes for you too.

Who should I ask?

Healthcare professionals are all around you!  If you have a family member in healthcare, that’s an easy place to start.  However, it’s not that easy for most preprofessional students.  You can start by asking your own physician or dentist, even if you are not interested in their particular specialty.  It is likely that they have a friend or colleague in your specialty of interest that they can connect you with.   Church is another great place to find a physician or dentist.  In most larger churches there is a healthcare professional on call most Sabbaths.  Find out who some of these people are and approach them with your interest in shadowing.  You can also contact the volunteer office at local hospitals and enquire about shadowing opportunities or try and contact specific physicians in your local area, in specialties you are interested in.  

I have someone in mind but I’m afraid to ask. What do I do?

Firstly, don’t be afraid to ask!  99% of the time, the person you have in mind is MORE THAN willing to have you follow them around for a few hours.  Trust me, they won’t see you as a burden.  Healthcare professionals in general, usually like to share their knowledge 🙂 , so they’ll be glad to have someone around with enthusiastic questions.   

I’m not afraid to ask, but what do I say?

Tell them you are interested in their field and want to gain more exposure.  Let them know who referred them as a good person to shadow. Tell them where you go to school and what your future plans and that you wanted to have more clinical exposure.

Should I bring anything with me?

It might be a good idea to bring a small notebook to jot down notes about the things you see and how you felt about the experience.  This will be good to add to your “premed” journal, which will be useful when as you start to write your personal statement and prepare for interviews

How long should I stay?

You and the physician you choose can coordinate a reasonable amount of time for your shadowing experience.

After you’re done, be sure to send a thank you card to the person who you shadowed, and don’t be afraid to contact them to shadow them on a semi regular basis.  It can be helpful to foster a relationship with this particular healthcare professional as they may be a great asset to have when time comes for letters of recommendation.

Take a look at two other helpful links with tips for shadowing.


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