Pre-Med Tips for Shadowing a Physician

One of the best ways to demonstrate your commitment to medicine in a tangible way on your application to medical school is by shadowing a doctor as a part of your clinical experience.
When reviewing your application, the admissions committee will want to see that you’ve done your research and are sure that a career in medicine—which is not for the faint of heart—is really for you. They’ll want to make sure that you know what you’re signing up for and that you’ve logged enough clinical hours to confidently make the decision to become a doctor.

How do you find opportunities to shadow a doctor?

Job shadowing can be somewhat difficult for pre-med students. A lucky few will have parents who are physicians. For these students, establishing the right connections to gain clinical experience and asking to shadow is as easy as having mom or dad call a colleague—or by just tagging along with them to work one day.
But what about the rest of us who might not have grown up in a medical household, or may not have close friends with doctors or nurses as parents? How can you go about asking a doctor for this crucial pre-med job experience? Where do you start?
  • Create a list of medical specialties that interest you

    We know, it’s crazy early to be deciding the rest of your medical career with hardly any knowledge. However, most of us have some inkling of what parts of medicine intrigue us and where we’d like to end up—so start there. Make a list of medical specialties that you’d like to know more about. If you’re really at a loss, start with the basics: internal medicine, family medicine, or pediatrics.
    Know that it can behoove you to learn about multiple medical fields by shadowing doctors with different specializations. Admissions committees like to know that you’ve seen a wide range of medical specialties by the time you apply to their program.

  • Try shadowing your family doctor

    If you don’t have any good connections in the world of medicine, think close to home: Who do you see when you’re sick? Chances are you have a relationship with that physician or provider, and they’d more than likely be thrilled to know that you’re considering a career in their field.
    Doctors know other doctors, so voice your interests and see what potential connections can be made. The vast majority of physicians are more than welcoming to pre-med students and would be excited to share their ideas and experience with you. Physicians are teachers at heart, and if they’re just too busy to have you shadow them, they’ll certainly tell you.

  • Once you have a connection, ask

    The only way you’ll be able to shadow a doctor is if you ask. So, don’t rely on your referral to do all the work for you. Make the effort to call, email, or stop by the office of the physician you’d like to shadow and represent yourself and your interest in the field.
    If you’re writing, make sure to be extremely polite and use a formal letter writing style. Attach your resume, so they can see your accomplishments. If you don’t hear back from an email, call or stop by in person.

  • Enjoy the clinical experience

    Most likely, you’re not going to be an integral part of the medical practice while shadowing as an undergrad pre-med student. You’ll mostly be a silent observer in the office, learning from an attending physician and watching as she conducts her practice.
    Politely—and only when the time is right—ask good questions. Read up on the cases that you see during your time shadowing and bring questions from your readings. Express interest in the field even if you have none (it’ll be good practice for rotations during your third and fourth year as a medical student). Offer to be helpful in any way you can. Many shadowing and clinical experiences turn into opportunities to gain a letter of recommendation.

  • Send a thank you note

    This may be the most important part. After the shadowing experience is over, send a personal, handwritten thank you note. Demonstrate that you’re an appreciative adult and that you have manners worthy of a profession centered on taking care of others’ health. You have no idea what impact this can leave on people.

Go forth with these tips for shadowing a doctor and gain the clinical experience you need to fulfill that aspect of your medical school application.

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