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Shadowing a doctor abroad vs shadowing a doctor at home

August 25, 2020

We know that pre-med students are faced with many decisions when it comes to getting their clinical shadowing experience. You might be asking yourself: should I shadow a doctor near me or find a hospital shadowing opportunity abroad

There are different benefits and considerations for these two experiences. The more varied medical experiences you have, the greater your understanding of healthcare will be. 

We have explored both types of programs so that you can see what each might add to your future career as a healthcare professional.

Shadowing a doctor at home

Contacting hospitals in your area is a convenient way to find a doctor to shadow. Some pre-med students will even approach their own doctor about observation opportunities. Perhaps you already know a physician and can ask them if you can observe.

Finding these local shadowing opportunities can give you an easy starting point for what will be many hours of clinical experience. You can gain an understanding of healthcare in a familiar context and maybe even meet other pre-health students from similar backgrounds.

Some medical schools require students to have a minimum number of clinical observation hours within their home country. The University of Washington School of Medicine, for example, requires their students to shadow for 40 hours in the United States so they can observe medicine where they may be practicing it. If you plan on staying in an area for the duration of your educational and professional career, you can start establishing your local network of doctors and healthcare workers now.

Another positive aspect of staying in your home country, or even hometown, for your clinical experience is that you can often shadow a doctor for free. If you are living in the area you may only have to pay the cost of transport to and from the hospital.

While this option can be more cost effective, you still have to identify and ask a doctor if they will agree to take you on. It’s good to start asking early, as some hospitals have long waitlists and applications for their programs. It may take some time scouting to find the right mentoring doctor, as opposed to pre-planned study abroad programs, like our Global Pre-Meds program, which find an appropriate placement for you.

You also may want to consider adding more clinical experiences to your resume to liven up and diversify your application. In which case, you might consider shadowing a doctor abroad.

Shadowing a doctor abroad

The obvious benefit to shadowing at an international hospital is gaining a global health perspective.

Not all pre-med students can say they have been on hospital frontlines abroad. Countries outside of your own experience different medical cases and general challenges in the healthcare industry. In African countries, for example, you may observe cases of malaria or even large animal trauma that you probably won’t see in countries like the United States. Each healthcare system has its own distinctions and there are lessons to be learned when you seek them out during your pre-med education.

This diverse experience can be appealing to some medical schools and internship opportunities you might apply to in the future. You should always make sure you check the program requirements before relying on international shadowing hours for your applications.  Your mentoring doctor in our Global Pre-Meds program will write you a personal letter of recommendation to verify your hours of international hospital experience.

In terms of networking, taking your medical shadowing hours abroad will lead you to pre-health students and doctors from varying backgrounds. You will be establishing these connections early on in your career, which can open up even more global opportunities.

Knowing you will likely participate in your local or university hospital at some point during your education, getting a sense of healthcare systems in a foreign context will allow for an interesting comparison. You will be able to make connections and establish differences between the way things are done in your home country and internationally.

Even if you intend to work as a doctor or nurse in your home country, you will more than likely interact with patients from many different backgrounds. As a healthcare provider, it’s necessary to understand that you will be helping people from different cultures and views on medicine. It will be helpful to get experience with people in other countries, because even in the U.S. or the United Kingdom, you will be visited by patients who are from other continents and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Most universities who encourage learning opportunities abroad, like the University of Minnesota, emphasize the importance of ensuring that the medical program you choose is ethical, and does not require you to do the work of a licensed medical professional when you are not one. Remember your place in these shadowing opportunities and make sure that your program does too.

We are very clear at Global Pre-Meds that our program is an observational learning opportunity. Our students do not perform any medical procedures or even interact with patients without supervision from their mentoring doctor.