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Physician Shadowing – What to Expect and Gain

Why do you need to shadow physicians? What does it mean to shadow a physician? What should I consider when shadowing? How long should you shadow a doctor? What do you do when you shadow a physician? Can you shadow any type of doctor? What questions should I ask the doctor? Find some answers in the following article.

Why Do You Need to Shadow Physicians?

The best way to know what career best suits you is to get some sort of first-hand exposure to that specific career. For many careers, this means taking part in an internship. For a career in medicine, you need to go to medical school before you can actually work as an intern. So, with the option of interning gone, the final, and one of the most effective options to get acquainted with medicine is to shadow physicians.

What Does It Mean to Shadow a Physician?

First, shadowing a physician means that you are following the doctor as he or she engages with his or her daily duties. You observe how the doctor interacts with patients, performs procedures, converses with his/her coworkers, and even how he/she spends lunchtime. You are not expected to do much, especially since you know very little about medicine.

||Start Shadowing: Virtually Shadow More Than 20 Specialties||

What Should I Consider While Shadowing?

1. Can I see myself doing the doctor’s tasks on a daily basis?

2. What am I attracted to about this profession/specialty?

3. Is there anything that I dislike?

4. Am I more drawn to diagnostic problem-solving or performing procedures?

5. What makes this experience meaningful?

6. Does this increase or decrease my motivation in becoming a doctor? Why?

7. Do I enjoy being around patients?

How Long Should You Shadow a Doctor?

You want to aim for 100-150 shadowing hours. However, you shouldn’t strive for that at the expense of performing poorly in your prereq courses. Getting stellar grades and studying for your MCAT should take precedence over shadowing hours, as these are set benchmarks medical schools have in place. If your GPA and MCAT score are below a medical school’s standards, your application might not even be looked at.

What Do You Do When You Shadow a Physician?

There is an incredible amount of variability in shadowing. Depending on the specialty, practice setting, time pressures, and personality of the doctor you are shadowing, your time could be rich and engaging or it could be a time where you become a literal shadow. Your physician might not involve you in any of his/her daily routines, or he/she could be incredibly accommodating and ask you to do more than you expected. No matter what the situation may be when you do decide to shadow a physician, it is best to keep your expectations low. Do not be surprised if you are not asked to help with any procedures or conduct medical interviews with patients. As a shadower, you are there primarily as an observer. If you do want your experience to be somewhat significant, you must be somewhat proactive and intentional.

||Read: How Do I Know I Want To Be A Doctor?||

Can You Shadow Any Type of Doctor?

Yes! In fact, it’s encouraged to shadow a doctor in the specialty you’re interested in. Whether that be dermatology, radiology, emergency medicine, etc. The whole idea of shadowing is to give you an idea of what doctors do daily, so you have a better understanding of their career and help you make the decision if this is something you want to do.

||Read: Reasons To Be A Doctor||

What Questions Should I ask the Doctor?

1. What do you like most and least about your job?

2. How did you get to where you are today?

3. Can you explain more about X disease?

4. Do you have specific strategies or tips when engaging with patients?

5. How does your profession affect the other areas of your life (Ex. Family)?

6. Do you have any advice for me?

The point of asking these questions is to help you find purpose and pleasure in shadowing.

What Are the Benefits of Physician Shadowing?

There are three parties involved when you shadow: the physician, the patient, and you. The first benefit of shadowing is that it provides you with a great way to build a relationship with a physician, he or she can serve as your mentor. You can ask for a letter of recommendation and/or a referral to another physician to shadow. Second, shadowing allows you to engage with patients, giving you the opportunity to learn more about them and their ailments. Hearing patient stories was one of the biggest reasons why I enjoyed shadowing. Lastly, shadowing a physician should challenge you and help grow a greater hunger to learn more about medicine. You should finish your time shadowing wanting to be in your physician’s shoes in the future. Shadowing gives you tangible goals to work towards as you realize more of your passion for medicine. At the end of the day, shadowing is really what you make of it. While shadowing will be different based on who or where you shadow, you will still be the one who controls expectations, thoughts, and levels of commitment. Make sure to go into your shadowing experience with an open mind, ready to learn, be impacted, and moved. You never know; your most meaningful shadowing experience could become a major part of your personal statement.

You can read also about Virtual Doctor Shadowing

**This article was first posted on US News Education.

||Read: The Importance of Mentorship||

With all the demands of being a pre-med student, squeezing in time to physically shadow a physician can be difficult. Even though we recommend you do seek physical shadowing, virtual shadowing is a feasible option to do in the meantime. Luckily, MedSchoolCoach offers a plethora of medical specialties you can shadow!

Start Virtual Shadowing Today!

Edward Chang

Edward Chang is the Co-founder and Director of Operations of He graduated from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and is currently a urology resident at the University of Washington. He also attended UCLA as an undergraduate, graduating with a major in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology. If you are interested in contributing to, please contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @EdwardChangMD and Prospective Doctor @ProspectiveDr.

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