The What, Where & How Of Doctor Shadowing

October 17, 2013

Article by Global Pre-Meds
Hospital doctor shadowing & global health experience programs.

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A consultation with Dr Sompan Shadowing a doctor can give you some much-needed insight into what a typical day as a doctor is like and is a great way to find out if a career in medicine is really for you. It also helps you gain familiarity with the different specialities as well as the diverse types of medical and research environments. An experience like this can also give your medical school application a tremendous boost as interviewing authorities are always on the lookout for students who have had some medical experience.  

So where do you start and how do you go about shadowing a doctor?

Where To Find Shadowing Opportunities

The first thing you will need to do is find a doctor who you can shadow.

The best resource is your own doctor or your family doctor. Ask if you can shadow them or if they know another doctor who may be able to oblige. If this does not work, ask your med school teachers or academic advisors if they know of any doctor who could give you that opportunity.   

Call up hospitals and local doctors and ask. While not all hospitals and clinics allow it because of the legalities involved, there are several that others that go out of their way to welcome pre-med students. The only problem you may encounter with this is that these facilities have a long list of students already on their waiting list and it could be a while before your number comes up.

Explore shadowing opportunities in other countries. There are several organisations that organise shadowing in hospitals and health care facilities in developing countries where medical students are welcome. Shadowing doctors who work in hospitals that are equipped with bare minimum facilities can be an eye opening experience. Everything else will seem easy after that.   

Watching surgery during a Gap Medics Medical Work Experience placement How Long Should You Shadow A Doctor? 

There is no fixed duration that works best. It will depend upon your level of interest as well as the schedule of the doctor you are shadowing. Of course, shadowing a doctor for just one day or even a couple of days will not let you get the real picture. You will only skim the surface of what it really is like. When you choose to do a placement in a hospital overseas, you will get the opportunity to shadow doctors full time across several different specialties for at least two weeks.  At the end of this 2-week period you will be in no doubt about what it takes to become a doctor.

Preparing for Shadowing

The most important thing you will need to do to prepare yourself for a day shadowing is to dress professionally and comfortably. You will find yourself on your feet all day so make sure your footwear is ultra comfortable.

Take a notebook and pen along so you can take notes and ask the doctor questions when you are walking along or at the end of the day. Remember to never ask questions in front of the patient.

In addition to these notes, make lots of lots of notes about your everyday experiences. These are things that will come in handy when you are writing your personal statements when applying to medical school. Last but not least, don’t forget to thank your mentor doctor for giving you the opportunity.