How to shadow a nurse

September 12, 2020

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

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Shadowing a nurse gives pre-nursing students the opportunity to see what it’s really like to be in this hard-working medical profession. In this article, we will explain exactly how to shadow a nurse. 

Whether you’re interested in becoming a registered nurse, nurse practitioner, or another medical specialty entirely, job shadowing is an important experience to have before applying to school. 

It’s important to consider the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Some hospitals and clinics are not allowing any students to shadow at this time. At Global Pre-Meds, we have made adjustments to our programs to allow pre-health, pre-nursing, or pre-PA students to still get those important shadowing hours in a safe, COVID resilient way.

How to find a nurse to shadow

If you know what kind of nursing you’re interested in, it might be helpful to look for an opportunity with a nurse in that specialty. However, make sure you explore other options within the nursing and medical field so that you can decide if nursing or medicine is the right career for you.

Nurses are in nearly every specialty, and you never know which one might be the most fitting for you. The important thing to remember as a pre-nursing student is that you’re looking to understand what a typical day of work looks like.

This is why we also recommend our Global Pre-Meds hospital doctor shadowing program. While you may be looking for nurses to shadow, you can get valuable shadowing hours on hospital front lines that will help you understand what a career in medicine is like.

Our two-week program in the Dominican Republic offers a minimum of 40 hours of shadowing, where you will get to see all kinds of medical procedures in different specialties. We often have students who are interested in nursing and midwifery, which allows us to provide an educational experience with that in mind. Should you join us, we make sure your mentoring doctor knows what your career interests are and can help cater to that. This may mean observing other nurses or midwives, but always getting an understanding of how doctors and the entire healthcare team work together.

If you’re committed to staying at home for your shadowing experience, you can start finding a nurse to shadow by asking anyone you know who has a connection to the medical field. It’s best to begin with any personal connections you have before you start cold calling. If you know a doctor or physician, perhaps they can ask a nurse they’re working with. If you have a family doctor that can also be a good place to start.

In case you are unable to make a connection on your own, you can always contact hospitals and clinics directly to ask if they allow students to shadow. Do some research and try to find the names of some nurses you want to observe.

Be polite, be brief, and be flexible! If they are not accepting any students or take too long to get back to you, you can try another location. When you do get a positive response, make sure you’re clear about when you’re available, while being flexible and working within the nurse’s availability.

It may not be an easy or quick process to find someone. If you are planning on shadowing over a specific holiday or time period, make sure you start looking early. This is another reason a pre-planned program like ours can be helpful.

We have already identified the doctors and hospitals that will provide a great shadowing experience for students. They are also paid from your program fee as an incentive, which increases access to healthcare for local communities. All you have to do is apply.

How to get the most out of your shadowing experience

Because nurses are so flexible and able to help in so many specialties, you should also be on time and ready for anything.

Take into account what nursing specialty you will be observing and do some research. This way you’ll be ready with some background knowledge and maybe even some questions that you already know you’ll want to ask. Bring a notebook and pen so that you can make notes on the cases you see, as well as any questions.

Dress professionally but comfortably. Being in the operating room is different from being in a family clinic, so make your clothing decisions accordingly. Usually business casual or scrubs are acceptable, and you should always wear shoes that you can do a lot of walking in.

The most important thing is not to get in the way. You are there as an observer. Even if you have questions, make sure you ask them between patients rather than when a nurse is trying to care for one.

Some patients may want to talk to you and ask you questions about yourself. Be polite, friendly, and take cues from your mentoring nurse. Nurses are often interacting and managing patients so take note of how the nurse does this.

Because you are not a medical professional, you should not be doing any medical procedures. Our Global Pre-Meds program follows all ethical guidelines and is strictly observational, so you will not have physical contact with patients.

Listen to your mentor and follow all health and safety guidelines. Think about how you will protect yourself from coronavirus. We wrote about how you can shadow in a hospital during COVID-19. Make sure you ask the nurse you are shadowing if you have any questions about this.

If you are worried about moving between a hospital and your home, consider our program. By shadowing a doctor abroad you will be separating yourself from potentially vulnerable loved ones and socially distancing within your bubble of peers and a mentoring doctor.

How shadowing benefits your career in medicine

Clinical shadowing is a professional experience that is highly recommended, if not required, for any future medical career.

At the end of your observational hours, make sure you have notes on all the cases you observed. You can use this information about treatment or patient care for any more shadowing or clinical experiences you have.

Because you will be at an international hospital with Global Pre-Meds, you will see cases that you may not get the chance to see in your home country. This global health experience is unique and will make you a well-rounded medical professional, no matter your specialty.

Show your appreciation by writing a thank you note to the nurse who allowed you to shadow. This is a great opportunity and it warrants gratitude. It also helps leave the nurse with a good impression of you and a potential contact for the rest of your career.

If you need a letter of recommendation, ask well in advance of when it is due. If you don’t need it at the end of your time with that particular nurse, ask them if they’d be willing to write you a recommendation in the future.

At Global Pre-Meds, your mentoring doctor will provide you with a personal letter of recommendation. Most nursing schools require recommendations, so it’s important to approach your clinical observation hours with this in mind.

If you want to know how to shadow a nurse, we hope you consider joining us at Global Pre-Meds for your shadowing experience. Find out more!