If you are on the path to getting your MD, then shadowing a physician is a critical experience. It entails following a doctor around for a day and seeing how they perform their job day-to-day. By seeing what the daily life of a physician looks like, you can start to access whether a career in medicine is right for you. It can also help you narrow down your specialty and get career advice from a seasoned professional.
Here is what you need to know about shadowing a doctor, including why it is important and 5 steps to successfully shadowing as a premed student (or even earlier).
Top Reasons to Shadow a Doctor
Becoming a physician is a significant commitment. It’s a rewarding profession but not ideal for those unsure or half-hearted about it. The best way to know whether it is the right career for you is by seeing what the job entails daily, practically. Shadowing a doctor is the best way to see the real life of a physician, both the exciting and mundane.
Beyond letting you know whether it is the right job for you, shadowing a doctor is a valuable way to strengthen your medical school application if you are pre-med. It allows medical school admissions teams to know that you are serious about becoming a doctor and dedicated to learning all about it before jumping in and applying. It tells them you know the realities of being a doctor and are still interested in going to medical school.
5 Tips for Success
To get the most from your experience, follow these 5 steps before, during, and after shadowing a physician.
Narrow Down by Specialty
You likely don’t have your specialty narrowed down quite yet. Medical school and residency will give you plenty of time and experience to decide, but you may have a general idea of what you want to pursue. Do some research and see what topics interest you the most, imagine how you would interact with patients, and reevaluate your skillset to narrow down which specialty you would like to shadow an MD in.
Look for Opportunities
There are several ways to find a physician to shadow. If you are currently getting your undergrad degree or just graduated, meet with your school’s pre-med advisors to get some direction.
Other students could also provide a valuable network of physicians. If you know a student who ended up going to medical school, ask them who they shadowed.
Also, speak to your personal physician to ask for some contacts. If your doctor can’t accommodate you, they will likely know someone that they can refer to you.
Reach Out to Physicians
Doctors are busy, so keep your communication short and to the point when asking to shadow them. Unless you’ve been told they prefer to communicate otherwise, start by emailing them. It puts less pressure on them to respond immediately, and they will most likely answer in a few days. Let them know why you’re interested in pursuing medicine and why you would like to shadow them specifically. Personalize your request rather than sending out a generic copy and paste to multiple doctors.
If they haven’t responded in a few days, then feel free to give them a phone call. Once they agree to allow you to shadow them, you can follow up with the important details. Make sure to confirm the location, how many times you will be shadowing, and how long each session will be.
Prepare for Shadowing
Although it’s normal to be a little nervous before shadowing a doctor, expectations of your role are low. You’re not there to learn to be a doctor but rather to see what being a doctor entails.
Ensure that you dress the part and look professional. Also, be respectful of everyone there, from staff to patients. Different physicians have different expectations, so follow the lead of the one you’re shadowing. Some do not appreciate questions, while others may want to teach you about their specialty and even give assignments to complete in-between shadowing shifts.
Once you have finished shadowing, send the physician a thank you email or card for the time and effort they spent showing you what their job is like. Also, take some time to reflect on your experience. Journal about the experiences that left an impression on you—you can use these for your personal statement on your medical school application. Use this time to consider where you would like to specialize your study.
Make the Most of Your Shadowing Experience
Shadowing is an incredibly valuable experience before jumping into an intense career. Once you’ve completed your medical training, remember to pay it forward to the next generation and allow other aspiring doctors to shadow you as well when that time comes.
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