How to Maximize Your Shadowing Experience

Shadowing is a vital component of any well-rounded application. It’s tremendously important that you shadow multiple doctors in different specialties. This can be just a box checked off your pre-med to-do list, or it can be a growth experience for you. Honestly, admissions committees will probably just want to see that you were exposed to the medical field through shadowing, and they won’t dig much deeper into your experiences. But, you’ll get what you put into every experience. This post is meant to help you Shadowingprepare for shadowing and give you the tools you need to benefit from every shadowing experience.

Preparation for Shadowing

Finding doctors to shadow may seem difficult and intimidating, but in my experience most doctors are receptive and understanding. They’ve been where you are now and are willing to help you out. Just as a general rule, doctors that practice in highly sensitive or stressful capacities will probably turn you down. For example, a plastic surgeon or OB/Gyn likely wouldn’t allow you to shadow in their practices. Others may allow you to shadow but only in a clinical setting. I, for example, shadowed a neurosurgeon, but because of hospital policies I was only allowed to shadow him during his clinical follow up appointments. If you don’t know any physicians or have any connections don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and call around. Like I said, doctors understand your situation and empathize with you!

Once you’ve found some doctors to shadow and have a date(s) set, make sure you ask what they’d like you to wear. Some doctors prefer business formal wear while others prefer scrubs. Read up on the specialty and the practice you’ll be visiting. Get a basic understanding of the types of patients the doctor sees and what kind of procedures they perform.

Think of some break-the-ice questions you can ask the doctor. At the end of this post I’ll leave a list of questions you could ask the doctor during your time in his/her office.

Arrive on time, and have good personal hygiene (duh!).

During Shadowing

This is your time to listen and observe. Don’t worry about asking great questions. Don’t worry about impressing the doctor with your knowledge or resume. Do spend your time absorbing the specialty and environment. Do think about how you could fit into the specialty and if you’d enjoy the day-to-day work that you’re seeing. This is your time, before medical school, to get a feel for different specialties and begin to form an idea of where you want to practice. So, sit back and watch, learn and absorb.

When you and the doctor have time to talk (some doctors won’t), ask him/her questions but don’t pry. You’re not there to learn the secrets of getting into medical school. You’re there to understand what they do each and every day.

I think that we pre-med students tend to operate under the idea that we must always impress. It’s easy to go into a situation with a polished script, but when you’re shadowing just be yourself. Remember, the doctors that you shadow are people too, and they have no say when it comes to your medical school acceptance.

After Shadowing

Reflect on your experiences. Ponder on the way the doctor interacted with his patients. Try to put yourself his his/her shoes and imagine yourself practicing in his/her particular field of medicine.

Write a thank you note to the doctor.

Write down the dates, hours and a description of each experience and save them somewhere handy. You’ll need them for your med school application.

In conclusion

Use your time while shadowing to understand the medical profession and its specialties. You’ll learn a lot if you take the time to prepare and spend your shadowing hours observing.


Some sample questions:

-When and/or why did you decide on specialty X?

-How long have you been working in this office?

-Why’d you choose to work here, specifically? or, What do you like about it?

-Is it pretty common for it to be this busy/slow?

-What sorts of patients/cases do you see most of? Has that changed since you started working here?

-If you could go back to where I am, getting ready to start medical school, do you think you’d choose the same specialty?

-How much do you have to worry about malpractice suits?

-What’d you like/hate about medical school?

-What do you do when scenario X happens?

-How does the Affordable Care Act impact your day-to-day practice? Would new changes affect your practice at all? (This could be a risky one, but if you’re conversant in healthcare politics and you know the doctor is into it, it probably wouldn’t hurt.)

-How often do you see cases like this one?

-How has your specialty changed since you got into it? How do you feel about those changes?

-Do you find that you’re able to make time for hobbies/family/vacations as much as you’d like?

-Were there other specialties you considered before specialty X? Why did you decide against them?

-Do you have as much autonomy as you would like?

-Why do you think so many cases of specialty X come in? Is there something unique about this area?

Finally, overall, be observant. Say things like, “I noticed that X happens quite a bit here, does that mean Y?” or “I never realized that’s how X worked, is that because Y?”

Read more about how to have a great AMCAS application here: