Every pre-med you know out there has probably shadowed a physician or is planning to shadow someone soon. Shadowing has become an integral part of a pre-med’s application. Well, if you already know you want to go to medical school and know you are going to be observing healthcare workers during clinicals, why is it necessary for you to observe a healthcare worker now? There are already numerous boxes to check off before applying to medical school and trying to find shadowing opportunities can be stressful. Hopefully, this article can address some of your questions on how to get the most out of your shadowing experience.
What purpose does shadowing serve? Shadowing can be a meaningful experience for pre-meds. The amount of knowledge and experience you gain by physically placing yourself in the work environment of a physician is tremendous. By allowing you to discover the pros and cons of each specialty, your shadowing experiences pave a path straight to your interest in the medical field, which is crucial to decide before applying to medical school. The last thing you want to do is be trapped in a job that does not fuel your passion.
Beginning your shadowing experience early on will give you plenty of time to search for a shadowing environment that best fits your interests. There is no ideal time to shadow, but most pre-meds find their shadowing opportunities during their summer of freshman and sophomore year. Since the summer of junior year is reserved to take the MCAT, many pre-meds opt to finish their shadowing prior to junior year. By this way, you can confirm your commitment to medicine before you begin studying for the MCAT. However, if a shadowing opportunity arises later, then don’t disregard it! The more exposure and clinical experience you gain before going to medical school, the more informed you will be about expectations of the medical field.
The key to finding shadowing experiences is NETWORKING! Reach out to clinics, family friends who are physicians, hospitals, and more to search for a shadowing opportunity. Cold-calling, emailing, or even going to clinics in person is a way to receive more information about whether they offer shadowing for pre-meds. Get in touch with your family physician and see if they can connect you to their colleagues. Additionally, ask your peers and upperclassmen to see if they can refer you a physician they have shadowed in the past.
Pro-Tip: Don’t be afraid to reach out to your undergraduate institution’s healthcare profession’s office to find organizations that actively offer shadowing opportunities for their members! Pre-med advisors can assist you in providing resources on how to find shadowing experiences too!
Okay, so after all the networking and cold-calling, you have finally landed an opportunity to shadow a physician! How exciting! Here are some tips on how you can get the best shadowing experience!
First impressions matter the most. Your first impression includes what time you arrive and how you dress. Punctuality shows how seriously you are taking this opportunity and speaks volumes about your professionalism and reputation. In order to be able to snag a potential letter of recommendation from the physician you are shadowing, coming to the clinic/hospital on time will leave a lasting positive impression. For dress code, make sure to communicate with the physician on what is an acceptable dress-code for their workplace. Pre-meds are not advised to wear white coats since it can create confusion in the medical setting. Wear comfortable business casual clothing or scrubs as recommended by the physician you will be observing. You will be on your feet for long periods of time, so avoid wearing uncomfortable heels/shoes.
Feel free to bring a small diary or notebook to jot important things down. Take notes of things you may want to research on your own, or ask the physician later. Find an appropriate time to ask your questions to the physician. Showing curiosity is an integral part of learning during your shadowing experience. When doctors are in the middle of a meeting with patients or completing their patient rounds, it’s best to be highly observant and patient during that time. By showing your understanding and patience, you will allow doctors give their undivided attention to their patients.
Lastly, make sure to be appreciative of the staff, patients, and other physicians that work in the clinic/hospital. Respect everyone you interact with. After your shadowing experience ends, make sure to write a thank-you note to the office and physician you have shadowed indicating how much you have learned and what a wonderful opportunity the experience was for you. Try to stay in touch and maintain a relationship with your physician, so you can seek their support and guidance in the future on your journey in medical school. Since they have gone through the same route themselves, they can offer unique insight when you need it the most.
Shadowing is a unique experience for every pre-med. Sometimes pre-meds can gain an abundance of clinical exposure, whereas some gain an abundance of behind-the-scenes exposure. Either way, you will be taking something new away from your experience. Use your shadowing experience to absorb and learn as much as you can. Shadowing a physician will deepen your understanding and appreciation for medicine. After all, you can never get enough of medicine!
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