How to ask to shadow a doctor

August 25, 2020

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

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Medical shadowing is an essential way to gain insight into your future career as a healthcare professional. But how do you ask to shadow a doctor?

As a pre-med or pre-health student, it can feel intimidating to approach busy medical professionals, whether you know them personally or not. We have found the best ways you can ask to shadow a doctor and open the door to your medical career.

Start early

If you know when you want to start shadowing a doctor over a specific holiday or time period, make sure you start to research potential points of contact early.

Healthcare providers are busy. A good rule of thumb is to approach a doctor about a month before you’d like to start your clinical experience. It would not bode well for you to approach a physician the week before you want to start shadowing them. Plan ahead for success.

It may take several weeks to find the right doctor or hospital for you, unless you find a pre-planned shadowing program. Our Global Pre-Meds program is an example of an international program in which the doctors and hospitals have already been identified. All you have to do is apply.

Identify doctors you could shadow

As with most professional requests, it’s convenient to start with people you know. Perhaps you have a family friend who is a physician. You could even ask your own family’s doctor. Utilize your connections before you try asking health care workers you’ve never met.

If you have a medical specialty you’re interested in, some students like to find a shadowing opportunity where they know they will get to see that kind of work. Remember though, this is your chance to see a variety of medical experiences so that you can gain a realistic understanding of what being a nurse, physician, or medical doctor entails.

If you are looking for general hospital shadowing experience, and you don’t know anyone in the medical field, you can research local hospitals or shadowing programs that you may want to ask.

Many universities and high schools have volunteer coordinators or advisors that you can also reach out to when you are looking for medical observation experiences. You could also see if your school as a local HOSA chapter. Try contacting those offices and see if they can point you in the right direction.

How to ask to shadow a doctor

While it may seem strange to you to request to shadow a doctor, you should know that premedical students shadow doctors all the time. Doctor’s offices and hospitals are used to receiving these requests.

Most pre-health students make shadowing requests via email or telephone. It is not usually helpful to show up at a hospital or clinic and interrupt a work day. Approaching them through email or telephone is more conducive to their busy schedules.

Additionally, you should be direct and concise in your request. Whether you are calling or sending an email you should include the following. 

It’s important that you remain flexible with your schedule. Although you should include when you’d be able to start, make sure you emphasize that you are willing to work with the doctor or physician’s availability. You can ask how long you might be able to shadow for and what times would be convenient for them.

End the call or email by saying thank you! You don’t have to write or leave a long wordy message. Respect their time and keep it short.

What if I don’t hear back?

If you don’t hear back after 7-10 days, you can try another way of contacting them or resend the same message or email. A followup can signify that you are serious about shadowing that doctor, and they may be more inclined to get back to you.

If you don’t hear back from a call within a week, you may want to refocus your efforts elsewhere.

One option is to find pre-planned shadowing programs. We offer several options for high school or college students looking for that first-hand experience on hospital frontlines.

You can learn more about our Global Pre-Meds shadowing program by visiting our home page.