How to Prepare For Your First Time Shadowing a Doctor or Surgeon

So, you finally got a shadowing gig set up with a physician. Great! You are one step closer to getting into medical school. If this is your first time shadowing a doctor, you are probably wondering how you should prepare.

This post will outline everything you need to prepare and get the most out of your shadowing experience.

Side note, if you are new to shadowing, I also recommend you check out our complete guide to shadowing a doctor!

Getting Set Up With the Hospital

First and foremost, make sure you are set up as a student observer (That’s what my official title was!) or something along those lines with the hospital your physician practices at.

This is something that is easily neglected but very important! You see, oftentimes the physician you are shadowing will have a solo or group practice set up adjacent to a hospital. Depending on the specialty, physicians will do the majority of their patient care and follow-ups in the office. However, these same physicians may have procedures they perform with more complex equipment. These procedures are done at the hospital they have privileges at.

You probably won’t have to go through any background check or anything like that before shadowing at a private office, but the hospital is a different story. They want to confirm you received vaccines, run a background, and make sure you are wearing a badge around the building.

Background check

The doctor you are shadowing with may not even consider this and you could end up having to sit out on surgery or less invasive procedure because you didn’t get “set up” with the hospital.

If you weren’t given any instructions on this and you know the doctor you are shadowing will be doing procedures at the hospital, be proactive and call the hospital’s HR. Let them know that you are a student observer (Or some other title that sounds official!) and that you want to make sure it’s okay for you to shadow hospital-based procedures.

If you can’t get this set up on your own, consider asking the physician you are shadowing or one of the staff members to help you get set up.

Further Reading: 11 Essential Tips for Shadowing a Surgeon

Prepare Questions Before Hand

Shadowing is a learning experience and you want to make sure you get the most out of it. Before you go in, write down a list of questions that you want to ask the physician. Once you start shadowing, it can be information overload so it’s easy to forget about the medical career-related questions you wanted to ask.

I wrote a post with plenty of example questions just in case you are struggling to think of what you should ask!

Should you Wear Scrubs When you Shadow a Physician?

Personally, I am a fan of wearing scrubs while shadowing.

I prefer scrubs for 2 reasons:

  1. You look like you belong there which alleviates some of the awkward patient encounters.
  2. They are comfortable.

However, professionalism is always key. Only wear scrubs on your first day of scribing if the physician you are shadowing tells you it’s fine. If scrubs weren’t brought up, assume a more conservative business casual at the least.

There is no harm in asking beforehand whether or not you should wear scrubs. They will probably say it doesn’t matter either way which opens the door to allow you to wear scrubs.

Should you Pack a Lunch for Shadowing?

It really doesn’t matter. In my experience, every doctor’s office has a break room you can leave your lunch in.

Personally, I prefer not to show up with a lunch box on the first day of shadowing. You don’t know where you will be most of the day. You could be in the office all day or you could be at the hospital. I would rather go out at lunch or grab some food in the hospital cafeteria on day one. Once you get a feel for the daily routine, you can make a better judgment call.

During one of my shadowing gigs, the physician would bring me into the doctor’s lounge which contained free food. Pretty good food too! Of course, it was also healthy.

Show up Early

It is important to be professional and part of that means showing up early. If you get there before the doctor you are shadowing, take a chance to meet all the staff. Get yourself familiarized with the office/hospital.

What to Expect on your First Day of Shadowing a Doctor

So you made it to your first day of shadowing, what now? What can you expect to do on your first day of shadowing? What will you see? Where do you stand? Will the patient be okay with you being there?

These are questions I had before my first day of shadowing a doctor. Luckily, I wrote 2 posts which provide plenty of detail regarding these matters. Here are the links:

What to expect when shadowing a doctor.

My Experience Shadowing an OB/Gyn.

It can be awkward shadowing a doctor, especially when you are a pre-med student. Sometimes you might feel like you don’t belong in there because of your lack of experience. Get these thoughts out of your head. Countless pre-meds have shadowed in the past and it’s a completely normal activity.

Don’t Stress Out

Shadowing is fun. There are very few times when you can observe the experts without actually having the stress about being the decision-maker.

If you are at all stressed about shadowing, don’t be. In fact, in my opinion, shadowing is probably one of the least stressful extracurricular pre-med experiences. You are there to be a passive learner. There won’t be any tests, you won’t be told to do something outside of your comfort zone, and, once again, you aren’t the decision-maker there.

Once you shadow someone for the first time and learn how cool it really is to be a doctor, you will want to see more and more. Don’t stress, have fun.


Shadowing is a very important experience you should have before getting into medical school. The first time can feel a little weird but that feeling goes away quickly.

Medicine is a tight-knit community that tries to help each other succeed. I have never experienced shadowing a physician that wasn’t happy to teach me things.

It is important to be as prepared as you can for your first time shadowing a doctor, but don’t overthink it. The advice I offer in this post, and my other posts on shadowing a physician, will help you get set up for success, but ultimately you will need to experience it for yourself to really see what works best for you.

Have any questions? Want to share your own experience? Email me through the contact page! Also, feel free to leave a comment, I’ll make sure to get back to you.

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