Typically sooner than later, all pre-medical students will hear that besides a good GPA and MCAT score,  you need:

  1. Shadowing experience
  2. Research experience
  3. Volunteer experience

to boost your medical school application.

It can seem overwhelming at first, having mind-boggling questions like, when will I have time for this? How do I do all of this? Where can I find these opportunities?

I will be writing a three-part blog series to explain how I was able to get these opportunities and to give some advice about strategies in how to obtain these key experiences.

*DISCLAIMER: These experiences are to grow you as a student, an aspiring physician, and most importantly, a patient advocate. Do not go into this process and have the mindset of treating this as a checklist for your resumé. Be patient with the process, and enjoy the journey.

What is shadowing?

To shadow is to follow a professional, in this case, a medical professional in their daily tasks to gain knowledge and a real picture of what that particular career will look like, and if that profession is truly for you.

Why is it important to have shadowing experience?

  1. The best way to know what career best suits you is to get some firsthand exposure to that specific career. Shadowing is a firsthand exposure.
  2. Networking. You can build a relationship with a physician and have him/her be a mentor/teacher. After building a solid relationship with him/her, you might be able to get a recommendation letter or a referral to other physicians.
  3. You will be able to get clinical exposure to patients. You will learn how teamwork and compassion will be the most important personal skills that will set you aside from being a good physician and a great one.
  4. Shadowing gives you the opportunity to meet with patients and learn more about their ailments and the reality of illnesses beyond medicine. You will hear stories that will move you, inspire you, and break you down only to build you back up again.
  5. The truth. Sometimes it hurts, and sometimes, the truth gives us a pleasure in confirmation. At the end of the very first day in which I first stepped into the Operating Room to watch surgeries all day was the day I completely knew that my purpose belonged in helping people in the OR, at the head of the table, administering medicine and protecting the patient, while s/he’s in surgery.
  6. To challenge yourself is to seek growth. Shadowing should fuel your appetite to learn more about medicine, to excite you to be in a physician’s shoes one day, and to motivate you towards that goal.

How do you get opportunities to shadow?

  1. Networking. Maybe your mom knows a doctor, or maybe your best friend’s mom is a doctor. This method isn’t always reliable, but it’s usually the easiest, and it is an option.
  2. Email/Phone. Go online and search up clinics and particular doctors in your area by specialty, and try to look for their contact information.
    • Phone call: You’ll either be sent to voicemail, or the office clerk/assistant will answer the phone. Introduce yourself, mention that you are a student interested in becoming a future physician, and explain why you think shadowing that physician/clinic will benefit you. Ask if there is a certain application process in which you have to go through to shadow. If it’s a private practice, usually, the physician is either very strict about having no observers, or haven’t thought about having student observers at all and ends up being very lenient and will let you shadow. Ask if you can come by and meet with the physician if they have any free time in which they will be kind enough to briefly spend with you to confirm that you actually are a student and not some random creep. State your contact information (email and phone number), and give your thanks for their kind consideration.
    • Email: feel free to use this as a base/example. 
    • Dear Dr./Ms./Mr. __________:       My name is _________ , and I am currently a [enter your major(s)] at the [name of your school, entering/in my _______ year in school. I am in the process of exploring careers in healthcare and I am very interested in the field of (enter specialty of the physician you want the shadow) __________. At the moment, I am in the process of looking for opportunities for shadowing and/or informational interviewing to gain more insight on what it’s really like to be a ____________. [Explain how you got his/her contact info]. If you are willing and your hospital/clinic/office allows students to shadow, I would welcome an opportunity to observe you work. I would be more than happy to go through the application process if you have any. {Optional:} I would also value the opportunity to have a short conversation over coffee or tea, on me, to hear more about your experiences and to get your advice on how to prepare for a career in __________. I realize that as a doctor, you are busy and that your time is valuable. If you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to reach me by e-mail or phone. Thank you for your kind consideration. 
    • Best regards,

      [Your full name]

      [professional email]

      [phone number]

  3. Just Do It. Many of the shadowing experiences I’ve had sprouted from me just being ambitious and medicine-crazed enough to just free up a day for shadow-hunting. I literally looked up every physician office building in my vicinity, drove to every single one of them, and knocked on every door. I introduced myself, explained I was interested in medicine and _________ specialty, and asked if I could shadow. Someone is bound to say yes.

*You will have to get used to rejection, because not everyone will say yes. You will get many “no”s, but don’t let that discourage you, and don’t take it personally. Many hospitals have very strict policies, and many physicians simply have no time to add you to a list of their priorities and think they would just disservice you if you observe and they can’t do their part in mentoring you and feeding you the knowledge that you can get from someone else who has the time. Fall down seven, get up eight.

What do you do when you actually shadow?

  • Arrive on time.
  • Ask in advance if you have to wear a certain attire.
  • Get lots of rest the night before, especially if you are going to be in the Operating Room (early hours for pre-op, long surgery procedures, a cold and quiet room you might fall asleep in)
  • Ask questions as much as you can, but only at the right times. If the patient is coding, that is NOT the time to be asking trivial questions.
  • Bring a small notepad.
  • Stay out of everyone’s way.
  • Follow and be nice to the nurses.
  • Follow all directions.

What happens after you shadow?

You go home and reflect on your day. You write a thank you note to give to anyone who mentored and helped you through the shadowing experience. Keep in touch with the doctor, and if you want, ask if you can come in again to shadow in the future.

Pictures from some of my fondest shadowing experiences!

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Observing a left thoracoabdominal 6 cm aneurysm repair with my best friend, Niyata Madhukar.
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Scrubbing in on a femoral artery bypass.
Good luck in your endeavors, and happy shadowing!!!

Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.

Napoleon Hill



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