MyMentor FAQs: Shadowing

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An exact minimum number of hours is often difficult to determine, as the quality of a shadowing experience is more important than the quantity of time spent in a physician’s presence. It is safe to have at least 25-50 hours of shadowing completed over a variety of specialties in order to demonstrate both your interest in the medical field and familiarity with the characteristics and responsibilities of a doctor.  

You may begin by reaching out to a pre-med advisor who may be able to connect you with a physician who will allow students to shadow, or by visiting your college’s campus clinic, if possible. This may be the best avenue to try, as these doctors would likely have experience in teaching interested students about their field of medicine and would thus be more comfortable allowing you into their workplace. If these are not feasible options, you can try contacting local hospitals and physicians’ offices, as there may be a chance that other pre-meds have shadowed there before. It is a good idea to prepare a resume that briefly outlines any past experiences or relevant activities, just in case it is asked of you during this process. Also, many hospitals accept general volunteers in order to help with a multitude of tasks, which may prove as an opportunity to network as well. Another opportunity can be found even closer to you: reaching out to yours or your family’s physician. They may be more willing to provide you with shadowing experience, having known you prior.  

At this point it isn’t 100% certain that all medical school programs will accept virtual shadowing as shadowing hours on an application. That being said, you can put virtual shadowing hours under the Extracurriculars section of your application. 

You’re in the right place! Check out our free virtual shadowing opportunity called Virtual Rounds. A medical case based virtual shadowing experience. We have a session every Wednesday at 8 pm CST! You can sign up and learn more here

Not at all! What is important is that you are immersing yourself in quality experiences that teach you more about the medical field and being a physician. If you have a specific field you are interested in, however, it may be a good idea to try to reach out to those physicians accordingly to better understand what their job actually entails and discover what fields in medicine you are best suited for. 

Prior to entering a patient room, the physician will introduce you as a student and ask for permission to allow you to observe the encounter. If the patient is uncomfortable with your presence, you may be asked politely to step out for the duration of the exam. If the patient consents to your shadowing, then be sure to abide by HIPAA regulations and keep all information you hear confidential. HIPAA violations are serious and can lead to serious consequences, including preventing you from being accepted into medical school. Similarly, all patient interactions should be kept professional, and you should make sure to respect any sensitive knowledge the patient may disclose to the physician. Express compassion for their complaints when appropriate, and display interest in their visit.

It is a wonderful opportunity to be able to shadow a physician, and you should do your best to conduct yourself in a professional, respectful, and engaging manner. Your attire should be business casual, matching the “dress code” of the clinic or hospital. If the doctor allows it, bringing a small notebook and pen with which to write down what you learn would be a great way to both document new knowledge you gain and show your interest in medicine. You should also be sure to ask the physician prior to seeing patients when they would like you to ask questions. Some practitioners have a preference as far as asking questions during or after each encounter. 

Things to avoid would be the use of your cell phone and a display of disinterested body language. Not all physicians allow pre-med students to work with them, and you should treat their time with respect. Using your phone during shadowing wastes time you could spend asking questions, helping the physician, and researching any conditions or medications you hear about. Appearing bored or uninterested also does not reflect well on your work ethic, so try to fill your experience with valuable moments you can look back upon when applying to medical school and determining which field you are interested in.

Shadowing gives you the opportunity to really understand the role of a physician in society, and form your own individual goals for practice. It also helps to confirm that medicine is the field for you and helps you develop a sense of professionalism along the way. Those who do not implement shadowing prior to medical school may find themselves surprised by many aspects of the career. 

Don’t forget about Virtual Rounds! That being said, in regards to in-person shadowing: Once you have exhausted all your options in finding a physician, such as reaching out to your own family doctors, it may be time to turn to an alternate activity to allow for clinical experiences. Many pre-med students pursue positions as a medical scribe in order to gain a similar clinical exposure and access to a healthcare team. This is a great way to learn more about medical terminology, patient history taking, determining an assessment and plan, and many more skills you will one day embody as a physician. 

Other options could include a position as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Medical Assistant (MA), or Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). These would also provide you with plenty of clinical exposure and practice interacting with patients. Further, these opportunities could certainly show medical school admissions committees your aptitude for the medical field and experience demonstrating important qualities required of a physician.

Sending a thank you card or email is the best way to conclude a shadowing experience. It is undoubtedly an honor to shadow any medical professional, so expressing your gratitude for the opportunity will reflect well on you. If appropriate, you may also ask the physician for a letter of recommendation while the experience is still fresh in their mind. If you decide to ask the physician to write a letter of recommendation on your behalf, be sure that he/she knows you well and can attest to your candidacy for application to medical school. 

Info Source: AMCAS

Additional Information

There is no set amount of shadowing hours you need to be accepted into medical school. Our team member, Anna, had about 300 when she applied while others had merely 10 and were accepted (don’t recommend).

You should shadow enough to where you have at least 3-4 physicians who know you on a personal level and would write a knock-out, incredible letter of recommendation for you. We recommend every applicant at least shadow 50 hours. Many medical societies and medical schools sponsor shadowing programs. Research your local medical society or state medical schools and see if they have any sponsored shadowing programs. This is really the best way to shadow. If you can’t find any local or state shadowing programs, cold call. This seems scary and intimidating but when done right can go quite well.

Before you cold call anyone, be sure you have a well constructed CV. If you need help constructing your CV, check out our editing services. Generally, when you cold call, you will get a secretary, PA, or nurse and will leave a message with them. When you leave or message (or if you are lucky and get them in person), be sure to tell them your name, school, year in school, and that you are interested in becoming a physician and would like to shadow a physician (very important to mention this). There’s no point shadowing a nurse practitioner if you want to be a doctor. You’re applying to medical school not NP school. When they call you back, some will ask for a CV and some won’t. If they don’t ask for a CV, request the physician’s email address so that they can learn a little bit about you before you arrive.

For all shadowing experiences, arrive at least 15-10 minutes early. If you are on time, you are late. This is true in all fields of medicine. You only get one chance to make a first impression. Be sure to make it a good one. When you are shadowing, try to relax and be yourself. If you do not mesh with the physician, there are always other physicians you can shadow.

Ask questions if you have them but don’t make up questions for the sake of asking them. This is obvious and wastes their time. Be polite to all staff members. Nurses may not be physicians but they work very, very hard and can teach you things physicians can’t. You are the pre-med student. You are the lowest person on the medical totem pole; be humble, kind, and respectful to all medical personnel.

When shadowing in surgery, stay aware of your surroundings. Be sure you are not in the way and do not touch the surgical drapes. If you are unsure where to stand, ask the surgical staff; they will appreciate the thought. Although you may think you know you want to become a neurosurgeon at age 18, be sure to vary the specialties you shadow. In medical school, you will not have time to shadow and because of your schedule it will be very difficult to shadow.

Undergraduate years are the best time to shadow so vary up your shadowing experiences. You will never have this opportunity and time again!

Above all, use your shadowing experiences to confirm your desires to become a physician. If you don’t enjoy shadowing, medicine may not be the career for you.

Becoming a CNA or working another position in a hospital or medical office may be an alternative way to gain more exposure to medicine if you are still unsure or need additional reassurance medicine is the “right” path for you. See our activities section for more details.