How to Make the Most of Your Shadowing Experience as a Pre-medical Student



Before applying to medical school, you should develop an understanding of what physicians do. One of the best ways to do this is by shadowing one! Besides the personal value of shadowing, medical school committees like to see that you’ve taken the time to learn about the field of medicine and the role of a physician.

Most successful medical school applicants apply with some shadowing experience. I applied with roughly 50 hours from two physicians who I shadowed in various settings (i.e. outpatient pediatric clinic, inpatient mother-baby unit). You really don’t need very many hours to gain a valuable experience. That’s what I’m sharing today- how to get the most from your shadowing experience!

Get the pertinent information.

  • A few days before you shadow, ask the physician or their assistant who you’ll meet with (it may be their resident), where to go, how to get there and what to wear. Ask them how long you’re expected to be there for. You can also ask for a contact number in case you get lost that day.

Be prepared.

  • Read up on the physician’s specialty and get a general idea of the conditions the physician treats. If you’re shadowing a surgery, be sure to look up what the surgery is and/or is for. By being somewhat knowledgeable about what’s going, you can be more engaged, ask more thoughtful questions and gain more from your experience. You’re definitely not expected to know the pathophysiology of diseases, so don’t worry about that at all!

Ask questions.

  • Besides being curious and asking questions about the cases you’ll see, you should also ask questions regarding medicine in general. Remember, you are there to learn if medicine is right for you! Some good questions to ask include:
    • “Why did you choose to pursue medicine?”
    • “Why did you choose (their specialty)?”
    • “What’s your favorite thing about (their specialty)?”
    • “What is a typical day for you like?”

Be professional.

  • Always err on the side of dressing more professionally. Don’t wear anything that’s revealing or too casual. Don’t interrupt physicians during a patient exam or rounds. Try to hold your questions for an appropriate time. Be considerate and say thank you to everyone who helps you out. Obviously, don’t be rude to anyone, including nurses and staff members.

Be proactive.

  • Be engaged and show interest! Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Try to stay out of the way whenever possible. 🙂

Put your phone away.

  • It never looks good to be on your phone during a clinical experience. Please don’t do it!

Thank the physician.

  • Always say thank you to the physician and staff at the end of the day. You can also send an email to the physician after your last day to thank them for their time. Try to stay in touch with them as they can be a great resource for you throughout your premed/med journey. If you really got along well with them, ask them to write you a letter of recommendation for medical school.

Reflect on your experience.

  • Think about what you liked and disliked from your shadowing experience. Is medicine something you’re still interested in? Was that specialty one you’d consider pursuing? What physician characteristics did you like and dislike and which would you aspire to possess? Ask yourself questions like these and be honest with yourself!

Good luck and feel free to reach out to me with any questions!


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