Shadowing a doctor is critical if you want to become one. No, seriously, it’s a requirement to get into medical school. While shadowing a doctor might seem out of reach, it’s quite doable if you know how to ask. Shadowing will give you your first taste of what being a doctor is like.
The reality might be very different from what you imagine. That reality might be something you want, or it might change what you want for your career. That’s part of the point of shadowing. Medical school requires enough education that you want to make sure it’s what you really want before you dive in too deeply.
Not only will shadowing a doctor give you vital experience, but it will also help you when it’s time to apply to medical school. After all, you’ll have your personal statement, Work and Activities, and medical school secondary essays to write. You can use experience shadowing a doctor for most parts of your AMCAS. Shadowing a doctor can be a pivotal part of your own medical journey.
What Is Shadowing Like?
Shadowing a doctor will always have unique factors. After all, each doctor’s office has its own quirks. But there will also be similarities because practicing medicine is standard in a lot of respects.
Do you know how to shadow a doctor? You will after reading this!
First off, you’ll take lots of notes while you shadow, but you won’t do much else. Because, unlike volunteering or interning, you’re mostly observing. It will be a wonderful learning experience.
You’ll watch the doctor interact with patients, provide treatment, and even conduct operations. But you’ll also watch them fill out paperwork, do computer work, and take on anything else that comes up during the day. Shadowing is truly an immersive experience.
The coolest part about shadowing is patient interaction. Every time the doctor sees a patient, they’ll introduce you and ask the patient if you can be in the room. Most of the time, you’ll get to be in the exam room. The doctor might even ask you if you have any questions for the patient. It can be a great experience.
But sometimes, you’ll be asked to step out because the patient wants privacy. Either way, the information you learn while in the exam room is strictly confidential. HIPAA makes it against the law for you to share a patient’s information with anyone else. The only exception is if you’re discussing the patient’s information with the doctor as part of your shadowing experience.
Now you know how to shadow a doctor.
Tips for Shadowing a Doctor
Take Lots of Notes
To make shadowing a doctor as much of a learning experience as possible, we recommend taking lots of notes. However, you won’t be able to write down everything that’s said. Because of this, we recommend that you write down what you don’t want to forget.
Do you have something you want to ask the doctor about later? Jot it down. Do you have an idea for a secondary essay? Make a note of it. (It’s okay to talk about patients if you change their name and any details that directly connect it to them.)
Keep Track of Your Hours
We recommend accruing 50 to 75 hours of volunteer time. This shows your commitment to medicine and your desire to further pursue it. You’ll need to enter how many hours you volunteered for in your AMCAS application, so log it as you go. You’ll want to write the date and number of hours you shadowed for. We recommend adding up your hours every week and then adding weekly totals together each month.
How to Ask a Doctor to Shadow
Okay, so you understand what to do while you’re shadowing. But how to ask a doctor to shadow is another thing altogether! And you might be wondering, “can I begin shadowing in high school?”
The answer is yes; you can start shadowing in high school. That’s a great time to shadow, actually. The earlier you’re exposed to your profession, the better!
But how do you ask a doctor if you can shadow them? Let us assure you that it’s not too difficult. How to ask a doctor to shadow is simple. Simply ask. We recommend starting with people you know. For example, your uncle could be a doctor. You can ask him to help you start your shadowing hours.
Only, you’ll want to ask someone else, too, because you can’t ask your uncle for a letter of recommendation for medical school. (Neither AMCAS nor any medical school will accept a letter written by a family member or friend.) But he will know other doctors, so he’s a great place to start!
Don’t have a family member who is also a doctor? Don’t worry. That’s not your only option. You can reach out to your doctor. You could call your pediatrician, primary care doctor, or a specialist, if you have one. They might let you shadow them. But, if they don’t allow current or former patients to shadow, they might know someone who will let you shadow.
Another option is to Google, “physician shadowing near me.” If you never go to the doctor and don’t have any connections, blindly reaching out to a doctor’s office is a perfectly good place to start. If you Google “physician shadowing near me,” you might find doctors who specifically offer shadowing to high school or college students.
Finally, you can see if your high school or college has shadowing resources or opportunities. Out of all these options, one of them should work for you! But if you’re having trouble finding someone to shadow, reach out to us.
We offer medical school admissions consulting, and we can help you analyze how you’re asking and help you write a letter asking to shadow. Not only that, but we can tell you about our voluntary healthcare internships abroad, which is another great way to gain shadowing experience through physician shadowing abroad.
What Kind of Doctor Should I Shadow?
You now know how to shadow a doctor. But what kind of doctor should you shadow? We recommend starting where your interests lie, but wherever you can shadow is a great starting point. You could shadow a primary care physician, a pediatrician, an OB/GYN, an ophthalmologist… the list goes on. If you want to become a certain type of specialist, ask a specialist in that field if you can shadow them. Include your desire to practice in their specialty in your letter.
So, you’ve considered what kind of doctor you want to shadow and you have an idea of who to ask. But how exactly do you contact a doctor to ask them if you can shadow them? In this section, we’re going to provide you with samples for shadowing for email and phone formats for doctors you already know and doctors you don’t know.
There’s important information you’ll want to include when you request to shadow. But you don’t want to go into a ton of detail because the doctor will be busy. You want to quickly make a good impression.
This is the information you always want to include:
- Introduce yourself. State your name, what school you attend, and where you’re at in your education.
- State that you want to be a doctor and what area of medicine you like.
Include how you know the doctor, whether they previously treated you as a patient or whether you were referred to them or found them on Google.
- Share why you want to shadow them.
- Ask to shadow them.
If you’re writing an email, keep it to three or four short paragraphs. Attach your resume in case the doctor wants to learn more about you. If you call instead of emailing, keep voicemails to under 30 seconds. If you speak with a receptionist, quickly introduce yourself. They’ll likely take a message and pass it along to the doctor.
Here are some samples for asking to shadow a doctor you already know.
Dear Dr. Minaj,
I hope you’re doing well. I miss my childhood visits with you, although I don’t miss getting sick! I’m now a sophomore at Baylor University. I’m a pre-med student majoring in Biology. The further I go into my education, the more I realize how much I love science and medicine.
I’m emailing to ask if you would be willing to allow me to shadow you. I want to see what a doctor’s life is like to make sure I’m on the right career path. I have a lot of open availability for the next several months, so I thought now would be a good time to reach out.
I would be privileged to spend any amount of time shadowing you, so thank you for considering my request.
Very truly yours,
Hi, Dr. Minaj! This is Haven Bender calling. You were my pediatrician, and now I’m in college. I attend Baylor University, where I’m studying Biology as a pre-med student. I’m calling to ask if you would consider letting me shadow you! I’m looking for more experience in the medical field to make sure that this is truly the right career path for me. If you have a chance, I’d love to hear back from you. My number is 123-456-7890. Thank you so much, and have a great day!
Here are samples for doctors you don’t know.
Dear Dr. Jones,
My name is Haven Bender, and I’m a sophomore at Baylor University. I found your office online by googling “physician shadowing near me,” and that’s the exact reason why I’m emailing you. I’m majoring in Biology and am a pre-med student looking for more experience in the medical field. It would be a privilege for me if you would allow me to shadow you.
If you’d consider it, I have mostly wide-open availability this coming summer. I’ve attached my resume to this email, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have about me.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Very truly yours,
Hi, my name is Haven Bender, and I’m calling for Dr. Jones. I’m a pre-med student at Baylor University, and I’m looking for a doctor to shadow. I want to gain more experience in the medical field to make sure that this is truly the profession I want. If you would consider letting me shadow you, please give me a call back at 123-456-7890. Thank you so much for your time. Have a great day!
So, there you have it. Now you know the details involved in asking to shadow a doctor. We know it’s a bit nerve-wracking, but it’s worth it! Remember, it’s a requirement to get into medical school, and it will help you know for sure that you want to practice medicine.
In addition to the tips we’ve provided in this article, it’s also important to present yourself well when you shadow. We recommend the following:
- Always be on time.
- Dress professionally.
- Follow all procedures and policies.
- Write a hand-written “thank you” note to the doctor.
- Ask for a letter of recommendation (before the doctor forgets you shadowed them!).
Following these tips will make a good impression. You don’t want to show up in sweats and embarrass the doctor in front of their patients. You won’t be worthy of a letter of recommendation if you do that! Follow up with gratitude and then ask for a letter of recommendation.
Finally, if you need help, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. International Medical Aid helps students just like you get into medical school every day. Our medical school admissions consulting is designed for this very purpose. And remember, if you’re looking for physician shadowing abroad, we offer voluntary healthcare internships abroad. We’d be happy to discuss this with you and answer any questions you may have.
Good luck! We hope shadowing a doctor goes well!