How to Job Shadow in Medicine: 7 FAQs
1. What is shadowing or physician-facing experience?
Shadowing a physician or other healthcare provider is your opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at a typical day. It is your opportunity to understand day to day activities and how those activities might differ between healthcare setting (private practice vs. hospital) and speciality.
2. Why is it important for pre-med students to get observation hours?
Shadowing can help you understand whether this is the right career path for you. Shadowing experience shouldn’t be done to just check a box toward medical school. Do shadowing for you, to help you make a more informed decision about your future! Observation hours can give you a clearer picture of the benefits and drawbacks of the career and it is your job to reflect on your experience to ensure it is still what you want.
3. How do I find shadowing opportunities?
Start with your own healthcare team. If you have a primary care or family doctor, talk with them about the possibility of shadowing. If they cannot accommodate a shadowing experience, ask them if they have colleagues they recommend you try reaching out to.
Keep trying until someone says yes to you! It feels vulnerable to put yourself out there like that but it’s important to reach out to as many physicians as you can until someone agrees to let you shadow.
It’s typically easier to find shadowing opportunities in smaller private practices or outpatient care centers where they don’t have as many policies and regulations that a hospital typically does.
Sample Outreach Email
When reaching out to inquire about shadowing opportunities, be sure to include the following information in your email:
Your name, Lehigh University, your class year, your major
Your interest in the field
Your ask (shadowing)
Your contact information
Dear Dr. Smith,
My name is Jane Doe and I am a sophomore at Lehigh University studying population health. I am interested in pursuing medical school and have a particular interest in working with children. I am hoping to shadow a physician to better understand the field of medicine and confirm my interests. I am reaching out to you because I am interested in the work that you do in pediatric oncology at Lehigh Valley Health Network. Would you be open to allowing me to shadow you for one full working day some time in the next couple of months? It would be particularly interesting to see both your work with your private practice as well as the work that you do at the hospital - although I would be grateful for any opportunity to see your work in action.
Lehigh University will be on winter break from December XX through January XX so I can be flexible with my time to accommodate your schedule. If there is any other information that you need from me (vaccination records or clearances), please let me know. I can be reached at XXX-XXX-XXXX or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
4. How many shadowing hours do I need?
Focus more on the quality of your shadowing experiences rather than the quantity. The goal of clinical exposure is to help you answer and reflect on questions like:
Do you know what you are getting yourself into before committing to a time consuming, expensive, rigorous profession?
Are you beginning to develop your own idea of good ‘bedside manner’ and the ability to care for people with diverse backgrounds?
Have your shadowing experiences helped you answer questions you had about patients or the profession?
5. What should I wear and what should I bring?
Be sure to dress professionally for a shadowing experience unless told otherwise by the physician. Wearing comfortable clothing and shoes that will allow you to walk all day is important. You should also plan to bring a notebook. You will be asking questions and seeing a lot throughout your experience so having a notebook to take notes can be helpful.
6. What else can I expect while job shadowing?
You may encounter a situation where your physician has to deliver difficult news to a patient. Note how the physician uses empathy and communication skills to support their patient through a difficult time.
Additionally, remember that shadowing is a completely hands off experience. Even if the physician asks you if you want to assist, you need to have the autonomy to say no.
7. What should I do after a shadowing experience?
Take some time to reflect on the experience. Did you enjoy your time shadowing? Was it helpful in confirming your desire to become a physician? This is a good time to determine whether you need more shadowing experience to help solidify your choice in medicine. If you had a negative or unhelpful experience (it happens!) I recommend trying again! Shadow with another physician before deciding that the career path isn’t for you.
Be sure to send a thank you note to your physician. If you had a positive experience with shadowing, be sure to stay in touch. Ask if you can continue shadowing in the future. If you develop a strong relationship with your physician, a letter of recommendation from them might be a great addition to your health professional school application.