As a new premed student, you might have a lot of doubts regarding shadowing a doctor. Trust me, I had my fair share of confusion too before beginning.
But, after watching several videos and reading articles about shadowing a doctor, I knew what I had to do.
So, I’ll try my best to save you time by discussing some of the best tips for premeds planning to shadow a doctor.
This post is all about shadowing a doctor.
Shadowing a Doctor: Best Tips
What Does It Mean to Shadow a Doctor?
First, let’s get a general idea about what shadowing a doctor is all about.
Most times we don’t know what we’re getting into before we actually get into it. Similarly, you might not know if being a doctor is actually your thing or not. Now, this is where shadowing a doctor can help you out.
When you’re shadowing a doctor, you’re involved in their day-to-day activities. You can go with them to the clinics or hospitals, and understand how their job works. Keep in mind that you won’t be actively participating in any of their daily tasks unless you’re asked to.
Why Should You Even Shadow a Doctor?
As a med student, I always recommend other premed students to shadow a doctor. After all, there are various benefits to it. Some of them are listed below.
- Gives you a better understanding of the whole medical profession.
- Understand how doctor-patient interaction works.
- Helps you decide whether the medical path is right for you or not.
- Gives you the opportunity to ask in-depth questions.
- Gives you an idea about what specialization is the best one for you.
- Can improve your overall resume.
10 Best Tips for Shadowing a Doctor as a Premed
You’ve decided to shadow a doctor – now what? The tips listed below can help you navigate through it all.
1. Conduct Initial Research to Find Different Specialties and Roles
Even if you have decided to shadow a doctor, there are several questions you need to ask. One of the biggest questions is – what type of doctor should I shadow?
There are various types of doctors like cardiologists, neurologists, pediatricians, general surgeons, and so on. This infographic by St. George’s University gives a great idea about the different medical roles, their work, and the skills required for them.
Now, you can choose which type of doctor you wish to shadow, depending on your interests. If you’re all for women’s health, you can shadow an OB/GYN. Or, if you love kids, you can shadow a pediatrician.
Tip: If you don’t have a clear idea about what you wish to do, just focus on reaching out to the doctors, regardless of their specialties.
2. Reach Out to As Many Doctors As You Can
Note that doctors don’t have time on their hands. Some might not like being shadowed either. So, you need to reach out to as many doctors as you can to get a reply from a few.
Some of the ways to reach out to the doctors are mentioned below.
- Personal Contacts
I suggest opting for this option over the others, simply because it has a high chance of being successful.
If you have a family doctor or a personal doctor, reach out to them, and ask them if you can shadow them. If they know you well and are on friendly terms with you, they might agree. You can also ask them questions without any hesitation.
The next option is to reach out to your friends and family. Then, ask them about their doctors and get their contact numbers or email. This way, you can reach out to the doctors easily. You can also ask your family or friends to put in a good word for you.
- Cold Calling or Emailing
In this approach, you have to make a list of the various hospitals and clinics around you, along with their emails and phone numbers.
It is best to mail them first. In the mail, introduce yourself first, and then ask them about any shadowing opportunities. Keep in mind that you might not always get a reply.
- Reach Out to Academic Advisors
If you have any academic advisors, you can also ask them about what hospitals or doctors offer shadowing opportunities. Since these advisors are in touch with many other premed students, they might be able to help you out.
- Participate in Healthcare Programs
Lastly, always stay updated with any healthcare programs or camps being organized in your town. You can choose to volunteer or participate in them. This will help you get close to the hospital staff and ask them to allow you to shadow a doctor.
3. Try to Shadow More Than One Doctor
You should always try to shadow more than one doctor if you have the time for it.
Shadowing more than one doctor will give you the chance to explore different roles. Hence, I find it particularly helpful for people who haven’t been able to decide which role fits them the best.
Additionally, having multiple experiences in your resume will help you stand out amongst other premed students.
4. Always Be On Time When Shadowing a Doctor
There are some general rules that you’ve to follow if you’re planning to shadow. Keep in mind that punctuality is important. So, as much as you want to binge-watch your favorite Netflix show, don’t do it.
Most doctors are busy and if you show up late, they’ll have a negative impression of you. This might hinder the whole shadowing experience.
I suggest reaching the hospital at least ten to fifteen minutes before the actual time to show that you’re sincere and devoted.
Also, if you cannot make it due to some emergency, always call up the hospital and inform them beforehand.
5. Dress Professionally
Your dressing sense can speak a lot about you in a professional setting, including a hospital. So, as much as I love sweatpants, don’t show up in them! There are some set clothing standards for doctors that you should follow too.
- Consider wearing sleeved tops or blouses – neutral colors work the best.
- If you’re wearing a professional dress, ensure that it has an appropriate length.
- For low-cut tops, consider wearing a camisole underneath.
- Avoid wearing heels or uncomfortable footwear. Tennis shoes are an ideal option.
- For men, simple dress slacks, solid shirts, and shoes are the best option.
6. Don’t Hesitate to Ask Questions
The best part about shadowing a doctor is that you can ask questions to an actual working professional. So, don’t ever hesitate or doubt yourself before questioning a doctor.
For my fellow introverts who struggle with asking questions immediately, I recommend noting down your questions in a diary. When you have some free time with the doctor, you can ask them then.
However, note that you should only ask questions at appropriate times, or when you’re asked to.
Most physicians don’t get much free time in between treating their patients. Don’t disturb them during this time.
Similarly, don’t disturb the doctor when they’re having their lunch. Once they’re done, ask them if they’re free and willing to answer a few questions.
7. Know the Rules of Shadowing a Doctor
There are certain rules that you have to follow before you start shadowing a doctor. These rules are governed by HIPPA – Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
HIPPA is simply a federal law that ensures that a patient’s information remains confidential. As a volunteer, you’re supposed to adhere to these laws as well, and not reveal the patients’ information to anybody.
Sometimes, a patient may not want you to observe their case and may request your absence. Hence, you’ll be expected to oblige to their requests.
8. Journal About Your Experiences
When it comes to any type of clinical experience (including shadowing a doctor), I also highly recommend to start right away to keep a journal about your experiences. Note down anything throughout your shadowing that could be meaningful for your own path towards medicine.
This could be important information about the day-to-day life as a physician, questions you might want to explore later on, stories that felt meaningful for you, as well as any learning lessons and challenges you came across.
This can come in very handy later on during your medical school application – when you write your personal statements, extracurricular essays as well as secondary applications.
You are already applying this upcoming cycle? Then make sure to sign up for my Free Premed Workshop. Among many other strategies, I will dive into how you can avoid writing a generic personal statement and instead, create stellar med school essays that shares your unique qualities as a human (not just a premed robot).
9. Always Express Your Gratitude
A little appreciation goes a long way! So, don’t forget to express your thankfulness towards the physician and other respective staff members like the assistant nurses.
You can simply write them a thank you note, put it in an envelope, and give it to them on the last day. Or, you can draft a heartfelt yet formal email and send it to them.
10. Ask for a Recommendation Letter
On the last day of your shadowing, don’t forget to ask the physician for a recommendation letter.
Now, they may be willing or unwilling to write it depending on your experience with them. If you had a brief or a bad shadowing experience, they may not write one.
On the other hand, if you developed a good bond with the doctor, they might offer to write one for you even. So, always give your best and be ready to help them, if needed.
Letters or recommendation? School lists? Primary and secondary applications? Casper? If the med school application cycle is making you anxious – Road to Acceptance is the right fit for you.
In this course I guide you through your ENTIRE med school application, including all the nitty gritty topics like letters of recommendations, creating your school list, writing essays that help you stand out, overcoming a low GPA and much MUCH more. All the strategies I used to earn 10 med school acceptances (despite a 3.3 GPA).
Final Thoughts on shadowing a doctor
Shadowing a doctor is one of the most vital experiences for any premed student. It will allow you to take a front seat to the life of a physician, their duties, and their responsibilities.
Additionally, shadowing a doctor will also help you know whether you’re truly interested in the medical industry or not!