What to Expect When Shadowing a Doctor

If you are a pre-med student, you need to make sure you shadow a doctor before applying to medical school. Although shadowing may not be strictly required to apply to a medical school, it is expected from most medical schools because shadowing is important for making sure that medicine is the right field for you. But what can you expect when shadowing a doctor?

This post will give you a better idea of what to expect when you first shadow a physician and also give you some tips on how to make sure your shadowing experience goes well.

How Long Will I Shadow For? The Whole Day?

This really depends on you and the physician you are shadowing. In my experience, most physicians don’t care how long you shadow for. My recommendation is to do as much as possible. Ideally, you want to experience the workday from start to finish and you want to make sure you go in enough days to really get an idea of how the practice changes over time.

When I shadowed an OB/Gyn for a summer, I went twice a week for the entire day. Sometimes when the physician stayed late, I stayed late with him. This length of time and frequency exposed me to a large percentage of his practice which I felt was a great experience.

When you find a physician to shadow, communicate to him or her your intentions to see what they are okay with. Honesty is the best policy. Ask the doctor you will shadow if it’s okay to go 2 or 3 full days a week for a month or two and see what they say!

What Will You Do?

When you shadow a physician, you are literally their “shadow.” You follow them around all day and observe what they do.

You will go into patient rooms with the physician and basically stand off to the side in order to observe. The doctor I shadowed would introduce me as a student and, depending on the patient, ask if it was okay for me to be there or if they preferred I stepped out. 95% of the time it was no problem. Occasionally there was a patient who was not comfortable with it so I waited outside.

During the busy part of the day, we were seeing patients back to back so there wasn’t much downtime. However, sometimes there was a lull so I would use that time to ask questions.

What Will You See?

During office visits, I saw how this doctor interacted with his patients and built that important connection with his amusing bedside manner. In the office, there were also minor procedures he would perform. I observed most of these procedures, but given the nature of these procedures (OB/GYN) he would ask for permission for me to be there.

Since he was introducing me as a student, it seemed much more legit than a random person so most people did not care.

Additionally, I got to see a couple of C-sections in the OR. In order for me to be in the OR, I had to get set up as a “Student Observer” through HR. Essentially a pre-employment screening. They needed all my vaccination records and they probably ran a background check.

If you get the chance to shadow some type of surgeon, prepare to be invited to watch a few surgeries. Try not to stand near anything sharp just in case you get a little light-headed!

How Should You Dress When Shadowing a Physician?

Once again communication is key. I recommend asking the doctor you are shadowing if you should wear scrubs. If he/she says yes then there you go. Scrubs are the most comfortable and you don’t stick out as someone who isn’t supposed to be there.

If the dress code is not specified, business casual is a safe bet. Never go casual, even if the doctor you are shadowing says they don’t have a preference.

What Should You Bring When Shadowing a Doctor?

The most important thing you should bring when shadowing a doctor is a small notepad and pen.

Take notes as much as possible. You will learn a lot while you shadow and writing things down will help you commit things to memory. Anything you learn while shadowing can be connected to pre-med classes such as anatomy or physiology.

Having a notepad and pen will also give you something to do while in patient rooms so that you aren’t just awkwardly standing in the corner. Also, the physician you are shadowing will be impressed if you take notes as he or she is explaining a concept to you.

How to Find a Doctor to Shadow?

Finding a doctor to shadow is much easier than you would think. Read this post with 9 tips for finding a doctor to shadow.

When asking random doctors to shadow, it helps to have some sort of purpose in mind. Perhaps a preceptorship or internship credits with your University. Ask a premed advisor if there is any way to earn credits while shadowing.

Don’t Forget!

Shadowing is a fun, laid back experience that will help you get motivated for your future career. Don’t stress about your first day, it will be fine. Most doctors are very accommodating and happy to share their experiences in order to help you get to where you want to be.

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