How to Shadow a Physician for Premeds

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Clinical experience is mandatory prior to applying to medical school.  You must demonstrate to medical schools that you know (as much as possible) what a physician’s job entails. The only way to practically gain this information is by observing physicians and gaining experience in a hospital and/or clinic setting. It may be difficult to find a physician who is amenable to letting you shadow. This is for a variety of reasons, but usually it is due to the fact that a physician’s job is very hectic and busy to begin with. Be persistent in your search and you are bound to find a physician or a hospital that will allow you to shadow. Remember, every physician had to shadow at some point in his or her career, and most will pay this forward.

Here are some tips for finding a shadowing opportunity:

  • You can start by asking your own doctor if you can shadow him or her for a few days or even longer. If they won’t allow it, ask if they recommend anyone else.
  • Find out from your friends and fellow students who they have shadowed. Approach the same doctors as they are likely more willing to allow you to shadow.
  • Contact local clinics and hospitals and state your case. Be persistent.
  • If you have volunteered at a hospital and forged a relationship with any of the doctors you have worked with, you should ask them if you can formally shadow them.
  • If you have never worked in a hospital or clinic and you don’t know any physicians you should start by first volunteering in a hospital or clinic. This will be a great way to meet healthcare professionals that you might one day be able to shadow.

Here is a template of what you could say to a physician you would like to shadow:

“Hi Dr. X. I would like to learn more about a career in medicine. Would it be okay with you if I shadowed you for a few days?”

If you are calling a clinic or hospital you can ask the following question to the receptionist:

“Hi, my name is X. I am a pre-med student who would like to shadow Dr. Y. Does Dr. Y allow students to shadow him or her? I can send you my resume (with contact information) if needed.

If the physician responds positively ask the following questions:

  • When (what time and what days) should I shadow?
  • Where should I meet you?
  • What kind of clothing should I wear (scrubs vs. business casual)?

While you are shadowing:

  • You may be required to sign a HIPAA waiver or complete HIPAA online training. This is to protect the doctor’s office from violating patient privacy laws.
  • Expect very little attention from the physician or the staff. You are simply an observer who has been allowed to watch what happens at a hospital or clinic. Be the physician’s shadow.
  • Do not interrupt the physician.
  • Do not speak to the patient other than to introduce yourself if your physician has not already done so (and wait for an opportune time to do so).
  • Do not ask a million questions. Ask a few intelligent ones. Really try to learn from observing.
  • Read about the health problems that you see in the clinic/hospital. This will show the physician that you are actively engaged in the material and actually interested in the subject matter.

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