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The Premed’s Complete Guide to Shadowing

You’re probably here because you are considering a career in medicine, but how the heck are you supposed to be sure that this is what you want to do?  Enter: shadowing a doctor.

Let’s be honest, the path to medicine is challenging and long. That’s why is it super important to understand what it looks like to be a practicing physician, whether that be in the clinic or the hospital. And no, I am not talking about watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Shadowing a doctor offers invaluable insights into the daily life of healthcare professionals, the dynamics of patient care, and the various medical specialties available. 

In this guide, we’ll delve into what shadowing entails, how to find opportunities, and how to make the most of your experience.

What is Shadowing?

Shadowing involves observing healthcare professionals, such as physicians, nurses, or physician assistants, as they perform their duties in clinical settings (hospitals, clinics, urgent care, nursing homes, etc). 

It provides aspiring medical professionals with an opportunity to witness the realities of medical practice, including patient interactions, diagnosis, treatment procedures, and the interdisciplinary collaboration essential in healthcare settings.

Why is Shadowing a Doctor Important?

Like clinical experience, shadowing is vital to your med school application and your journey to becoming a doctor. Although the name implies that you are merely following a doctor around the hospital, these experiences offer a host of benefits for you as a premed and future medical student. 

1. Insight into Medical Practice

It’s hard to know all of the duties of being a physician without having seen one in action. When I first shadowed a doctor, I was shocked to see they spent so much time working on paperwork behind the scenes. 

You’ll gain a better understanding of the day-to-day responsibilities, challenges, and rewards of being a healthcare professional beyond the life-saving procedures typically shown in the media. 

2. Exploration of Specialties 

You won’t need to think about choosing a specialty until you’re in medical school, but it’s never too early to get some exposure. By shadowing doctors in various specialties, you can explore different areas of medicine and gain insight into which field aligns best with your interests and strengths. 

Many premeds don’t realize just how many specialties there are in medicine until after they get to medical school!

3. Networking Opportunities 

Shadowing provides an excellent opportunity to network with healthcare professionals who can offer guidance, mentorship, and potential letters of recommendation for your medical school applications. 

4. Enhancement of Medical School Application 

Having shadowing experience demonstrates your commitment to pursuing a career in medicine and can strengthen your medical school application. It can also demonstrate to both yourself and the admissions committees that you know what being a physician entails and are choosing to pursue a career in medicine with that knowledge in mind. 

How to Find Shadowing Opportunities

Finding shadowing opportunities may seem daunting at first, but with persistence and resourcefulness, you can do it! Here are some strategies to help you get started:

1. Reach Out to Personal Connections 

This is how most people find shadowing opportunities. Begin by asking friends, family members, or acquaintances if they know any healthcare professionals who would be willing to allow you to shadow them. If you have other premed friends or friends already in medical school, ask them who they shadowed.

You might also find success by asking your personal doctors if you can shadow them. 

2. Utilize Online Resources 

Websites such as VolunteerMatch, AAMC’s Clinical Care Observership Directory, and hospital or clinic websites often list shadowing opportunities available to premed students. Check these platforms regularly and reach out to relevant contacts to express your interest.

3. Contact Local Healthcare Facilities 

Reach out to hospitals, clinics, and medical offices in your area and inquire about shadowing programs or opportunities for students. Some facilities have established shadowing programs and may require an application process, so be prepared to provide your resume, transcripts, and references.

4. Attend Networking Events

Attend career fairs, medical conferences, or networking events hosted by your university or local medical organizations. These events provide opportunities to connect with healthcare professionals and explore potential opportunities to shadow a doctor.

5. Consider Virtual Shadowing 

In light of recent advancements in telemedicine, virtual shadowing opportunities have become increasingly available and accepted by medical schools. These programs allow students to observe and interact with physicians remotely, providing a convenient and flexible option for shadowing. 

Some of these options are live while others are pre-recorded. Virtual shadowing can be convenient and flexible. However, it can also be less personal and might limit your ability to ask questions. 

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Make the Most of Your Experience Shadowing a Doctor

Once you’ve secured a shadowing opportunity, it’s essential to approach it with professionalism, curiosity, and a willingness to learn. Here are some tips for making the most of your experience:

1. Be Respectful

Respect patient privacy, maintain confidentiality, and adhere to the policies and procedures of the healthcare facility at all times. It can be helpful to review HIPAA, which outlines patient privacy and confidentiality before you shadow. 

2. Ask Questions

Don’t hesitate to ask questions to deepen your understanding of medical procedures, diagnoses, and treatment plans. Healthcare professionals appreciate curiosity and engagement from shadowing students.

Here are some sample questions to ask when shadowing a doctor:

  1. How did you become interested in (field)?
  2. What do you like about your job/field? 
  3. What kind of skills do you use as part of your day-to-day job? What skills would you suggest a current premed student work on?
  4. What part of your job is most challenging?
  5. What personal attributes do you think are essential to success in your field?
  6. If you could do it all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself?
  7. How do you balance your family/personal life with this career?
  8. How has the healthcare industry changed since you began working in it?
  9. What is your advice on applying to and/or choosing a medical school?
  10. How do you continue to grow your education or skills?

3. Take Initiative 

Offer to assist with tasks when appropriate and demonstrate initiative in learning and participating in the clinical environment. Also, determine if the person you are shadowing would rather you just follow and listen. It really depends on the doctor’s expectations for their students. 

4. Reflect on Your Experience 

Take time to reflect on your shadowing experiences, noting what aspects of medicine resonate with you and what you’ve learned from observing healthcare professionals in action. I found it incredibly helpful to have notes to draw on from my shadowing experiences when I was writing my personal statement for medical school applications

5. Express Gratitude 

Remember to thank the healthcare professionals who have generously allowed you to shadow them. Expressing gratitude goes a long way in fostering positive relationships and potential future opportunities. I always found a thank you note to be effective and meaningful for the physicians that I shadowed. 


Shadowing is an invaluable component of preparing for a career in medicine. By actively seeking out shadowing opportunities, approaching them with professionalism and curiosity, and reflecting on your experiences, you’ll gain valuable insights into the practice of medicine and enhance your path toward becoming a doctor.

Shadowing and clinical experience are essential for your medical school application, but don’t forget the other parts! Whether you need help with your MCAT score and looking for the best MCAT prep or you need to boost your medical school application with some help from expert Med School Admissions Consultants, Blueprint MCAT is here to help you every step of the way.

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