What Are Good Questions to Ask When Shadowing a Doctor?

When you get the opportunity to shadow a physician, you want to make sure you make the most of it. One way to do that is by asking good questions which will help you better understand the specific specialty you are shadowing and the medical industry as a whole.

That being said, I don’t think you should show up on day one with a memorized list of questions to ask. Your discussion with the physician should be organic. By the way, if you want to get the most out of your shadowing experience, I recommend you check out our ultimate guide to shadowing as a premed. In this guide, we go over everything you will ever need to know about shadowing.

To help guide you in the right direction, I compiled a list of questions you could use as a rubric.

What is your typical schedule like? What are your hours in a typical week? Is there time for family? What are some hobbies you do during your free time?

Depending on which specialty you are shadowing, you will find that a doctor’s schedule can be all over the place. These questions are important to ask in order to learn more about what you are getting yourself into.

When I shadowed an OB/Gyn, he offered to make my shadowing experience more immersive by calling me in when one of his patients went into labor. This meant getting called in the middle of the night and on the weekend. I accepted this offer and I think it paid off. This experience really gave me a better understanding of what it means to be on call.

If you had to start all over, would you still become a physician? If not, what would you do? What are some things you wish you knew before getting started?

In my experience, most physicians would still decide to become a physician.

But sometimes you might not like the answer. It’s important to know what leads to physicians regretting their careers. Not to deter you, but prepare you and properly align your expectations.

Did you always want to be a doctor? Why did you choose this specialty? Is being a doctor exactly what you imagined?

I think you will be surprised by the different answers you get to these questions. However, in my experience, most doctors do not think they’re professions end up exactly as they had imagined. This is why we shadow first!

If you could change anything about your profession, what would it be? What are the best parts of your job? What are the worst parts?

There are pros and cons to any profession. It’s important that you don’t put blinders on when choosing to become a doctor.

What kind of professional organizations do you or your colleagues participate in?

Usually, doctors don’t stop being part of “extracurriculars” once they get through medical school.

Sometimes we might feel that being part of different organizations is just a thing we do to get into medical school. The reality is that once you start down this path it is normal to be part of different groups.

Any advice on choosing a medical school? How many medical schools did you apply to? Besides academics, what are some things you can do to better your chances of getting into Medical School? What do you think are the greatest challenges in completing medical school and becoming a physician?

Doctors that you shadow can become mentors. Most physicians love to help out premed students. Take advantage of any downtime you have with your physician to see if you can get advice on getting into medical school.

What are the most important qualities of being a good doctor?

Even if you don’t think you have these qualities… you can always strive to develop them. Getting into medical school is a journey, and during this journey you will develop these important qualities.  

How often are you seeing general patients outside of your specialty? What kind of problems do you deal with? How often are you performing procedures vs seeing patients? Are you part of any research?

Once again, becoming a physician may not be what you are imaging it to be.

These kinds of questions will help you live in reality so that you make the right decisions with your career path. As a doctor, you will be making differences in people’s lives and, in many cases, saving people’s lives. However, the glamour can be overblown and it’s important to realize that.

Are you satisfied financially?

Most people don’t like talking about their personal finance, so be careful asking this one. Make sure you read the conversation well!

You might not get exact numbers on salary but you will find that in many cases student loans can have a large impact on a doctor’s life. These loans might be necessary, but paying them off should be taken seriously.

What are the most pressing issues facing medicine today and in the near future? How does healthcare policies and insurance companies affect you directly? Is there anything in medicine that goes against your religious and moral beliefs?

It’s no mystery, healthcare is full of political opinions. Any doctor you shadow will have a strong opinion about policies. After all, it’s their career that is affected!

What do you do if you do not know something or how to treat a patient? How often do patients surprise you?

When I shadowed an OB/Gyn, there were times he didn’t know something. He had a library of books to consult in his office and he wouldn’t be ashamed to call one of his fellow physicians for advice.

Being humble is an important quality of a physician!

Do pharmaceutical companies put a lot of pressure on doctors to prescribe certain drugs?

My experience is that drug reps are just a common occurrence in doctors’ offices and hospitals. It is not uncommon to find a free lunch platter in the break room.

Are you allowed to treat people outside of the clinical setting? Can you specialize and then still do general practice?

Not something you typically think about when studying to get into medical school, but nonetheless, this is something important to consider. You want to know as much as possible about your future career!

Finally, ask questions that come up organically.

Why is the patient having these symptoms? Why did he/she treat them this way? Etc.

Shadowing is a very good learning opportunity. Take what you learned in the classroom and apply it to real-life scenarios. You will find that when you see the practice of medicine in real life, it will help you to develop a better understanding of the subject material.

Further Reading: 9 Tips For Finding A Doctor To Shadow

Final Thoughts

A lot of these questions may be a little awkward to ask. My advice to you is to get out of your comfort zone and ask anyway.

Sometimes you might not like the answer you receive. That’s okay, medicine is an amazing field to get into but it won’t be everything you imagined. It is better to know about the drawbacks now instead of later. Not to deter you but to prepare you.

Shadowing a physician will open your eyes to the world of medicine. After you finish, be sure to thank the physician you shadowed with a well-thought-out letter! I hope these questions help improve your shadowing experience so that you can get more out of it!

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