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Can I shadow a doctor for PA school?

November 19, 2020

Yes! If you are a pre-PA student or looking to apply to PA school, you can shadow a doctor to help fulfill your requirements. Because there are so many similarities between doctors and physician assistants, you can still learn a great deal by shadowing a doctor. 

Physician assistant programs have different prerequisites so it’s important for you to check with your particular program. However, most programs ask that you have some shadowing hours with a physician assistant, so that you can understand their specific responsibilities.

At Global Pre-Meds, we design our doctor shadowing and global health programs for students interested in becoming doctors, nurses, midwives, and physician assistants

Before you embark on your trip, we interview you and take references so that we understand what your interests in healthcare are. We place you with the right peer group and mentoring doctor so that you can get the most out of your program.

How many shadowing hours do I need for PA school?

Most physician assistant programs ask that their students have a minimum of 40 hours of shadowing experience. That does not include the number of patient care and healthcare experience hours that you also have to complete for your application.

The Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) surveys students applying to PA school every year. Their most recent 2019-2020 survey tells us that of the students accepted into PA school, they had an average of 94 hours of shadowing.

Our Global Pre-Meds Dominican Republic program guarantees a minimum of 40 hours of shadowing on the frontlines of an international hospital. You also receive a personal letter of recommendation that speaks to your ability as a future healthcare professional

Why shadow a doctor?

Physician assistants are usually required to practice under the supervision of a medical doctor. While the doctor may not be with you every step of your work day, you will occasionally need a consultation on a patient or a sign off on your treatment plan. 

It’s a good idea to understand how physicians and the greater hospital collaborates to provide patient care. You will be working with other colleagues and it’s important to see what each person’s roles and responsibilities are.

As far as medical knowledge is concerned, physician assistants have less schooling but receive a more general medical foundation. This is because PAs can be found in every speciality just like doctors. The scope of practice for physician assistants is very similar to a doctor, so observing an MD will serve you well. 

Admissions officers at PA schools can appreciate students shadowing other specialities because it shows them that you have a broader understanding of the healthcare field. You will more easily justify your commitment to the profession if you have had the chance to observe all your options. You will be able to write your application essays and explain exactly why you would rather be a physician assistant than a doctor, nurse, or midwife. 

If you join us at Global Pre-Meds, we pair you with a mentoring doctor who can create a comprehensive learning environment for you. They will guide you through your experience and answer any questions that you have. Should an interesting case come up with another colleague, they may allow you to observe with them for part of the day.

Because you will be observing doctors in international hospitals, you will see a greater diversity of cases than what you would observe shadowing in your home country. You may observe patients with illnesses or injuries that are common in their country but you would not normally see in your own country.

Our Tanzania program, for example, will take you through three levels of healthcare – traditional healers, rural clinics, and general hospitals. You will get the chance to speak with a surgeon who deals with large animal traumas, which are actually common in Tanzania. The global health experience you will gain when shadowing with Global Pre-Meds will help you become a better physician assistant and stand out from the crowd of other applicants. Few pre-PA students will have had the variety of shadowing experience that our Global Pre-Med students do. 

Shadowing a doctor, even as a pre-PA student, can help you start building your connections in the healthcare field. Shadowing one doctor may lead you to other healthcare professionals to shadow and references for the future. 

How do I prepare to shadow a doctor?

If you are going to shadow a doctor make sure you know exactly when and where you will be meeting your mentor and don’t be late! You may want to double check the parking situation and make a plan for transportation.

Dress professionally for your shadowing experience. If you are shadowing a doctor at a clinic or outpatient facility, business casual is probably best, but you can always ask the doctor. Scrubs are usually for when you are observing in a hospital or inpatient facility.

Prepare some questions you may want to ask and bring a notebook to write any new ones that pop up during the day. It’s also helpful to keep notes of what kind of cases you observe. 

Listen attentively and ask questions at appropriate times. Be friendly but respectful with patients. If you have any questions, always ask your mentoring doctor. 

At the end of your shadowing experience, make sure you say thank you. Write an email or a handwritten note to thank your mentor for giving you the opportunity. 

If you join us at Global Pre-Meds, we take care of everything. We help you prepare for your departure and meet you as soon as you step off the plane. Our programs are fully residential, which means your one time program fee will take care of your food, housing, and transportation. We also provide American standard PPE for every day that you are in the hospital. 

And the best part is we’ve already found the best mentors and hospitals for you. You know you’ll be getting a good experience that is worth your time. All you have to do is apply!