“…made me realize that medicine is not always rainbows and butterflies, and there are times where you have to learn to be human in order to comfort emotional and scared patients. I saw this and it did not turn me away. That was when I knew medicine is my calling.”
Not only is doctor shadowing essential for medical school applications, but it is also a self-discovering experience that helps you determine if medicine is a right fit for you or not. Whether you are with a physician in their clinic or observing in the OR, there is always something to learn about what it’s like to work in medicine. For me, I learned that patients aren’t always happy, doctors aren’t always delivering good news, and the OR is not always as glorious and dramatic as they seem on Grey’s Anatomy…and that was okay with me.
Who did you shadow?
- Otolaryngologist – clinic and OR
- Dermatologist – clinic
- Head and neck surgeon – clinic and OR
- Neurosurgeon – OR
How did you get the opportunity?
I joined a pre-medical honor society my freshman year of college. In this organization, I met with physicians who came to speak at our meetings and participated in Health Networking events. The doctor shadowing coordinators in the org would plan with the physicians and as members we would just sign up or “apply” to get that shadowing spot. In addition, as part of the pre-med honor society, I was able to access physicians the org had on file and their contact information. I would call the physician’s clinic and then ask if they allow shadowing opportunities for undergraduate students! Most of the physicians only allow medical students to shadow them, but eventually you will find a physician who welcomes you!! With that said, I highly recommend finding an organization that encourages and supports your needs as a pre-med. Trust me, it will be much easier!
If you aren’t in a pre-med organization like I was, my advice would be to start with someone in your family who is a health professional. Chances are they’ll be easier to contact and refer you to more shadowing opportunities. Another start could be your family doctor. Perhaps ask to shadow them if they allow the opportunity since they already know you. If not, maybe they have colleagues or connections they may refer you too! Finally, if none of these work for you, I would just search Google for physicians in your area and then call all of them to see who will let you observe!!
For the neurosurgeon I shadowed, I actually found a program online for Seton for non-medical observers. I made a few phone calls and e-mail and eventually I was in the OR observing a craniotomy and repair of lipomyelomeningocele. Super exciting, and who would ever have thought I would be able to observe brain surgery?! Of course, it took a lot of patience on my end and coordinating on the hospital’s side because the process actually took a few months. I had to send in an application, get approved, get a badge, and get on the doctor’s schedule. Admist all of that, the coordinator went on maternity leave so I was left hanging for about 3 months until anyone responded to me. So the point I’m trying to make is do your research, reach out to people, be patient, and be persistent!
What was your favorite shadowing experience?
My favorite experience was shadowing a dermatologist. I was never really interested in dermatology before. Suddenly out of nowhere, the pre-med org needed someone to fill a shadowing spot since a girl couldn’t make it and we didn’t want to look bad to the doctor. My schedule was open so I thought “Why not?” Low and behold, hands down, the best 3 hours of my life. There is just so much to dermatology that I didn’t know before! I always thought it was doctors treating rashes and moving moles and warts. On the contrary, I saw the medical side as well as the cosmetology side that dermatologists do. I observed treatment for varicose veins, Botox injections, face sculpting injections, and a laser tattoo removal! It was truly eye-opening, and I was so glad to be able to explore a field of medicine that I never thought I’d be interested in while learning so many new things.
Did you feel you formed a close relationship with a physician through shadowing them?
Yes. I shadowed a head-neck surgeon during her clinic hours in the summer. I went every Friday for about 4 hours in the morning. The doctor was extremely nice and answered any questions that I had. During these observations, I would bring a notebook with me to write down anything I learned and observed so I could look back on in the future. This seemed to really impress my particular doctor because she saw I was willing to learn, and valued the shadowing time.I observed her interactions with her patients and how she explained bad news to them, comforted them when they were scared, and genuinely showed concern and interest in their lives. This experience with her made me realize that medicine is not always rainbows and butterflies, and there are times where you have to learn to be human in order to comfort emotional and scared patients. I saw this and it did not turn me away. That was when I knew medicine is my calling.
Once summer was over, I didn’t shadow this physician anymore. However, I felt that I formed a good enough relationship with her that I was comfortable asking to shadow her in the OR and for a letter of recommendation for a pre-medical program. Although she is the only physician I shadowed for a long period of time, I believe that these experiences are the most beneficial. You get to know the doctor, the realities of medicine, and form unforgettable relationships with physicians who can shape your path to medical school.
Any final tips?
The only other ones I can think of are:
- Be polite to EVERYONE, not just the doctor!
- Send thank you cards after your experience
- Look eager to learn. I always brought a journal with me when permitted to jot down anything I would want to read back on in the future
- Dress appropriately. If they say business professional, then do business professional.
- Ask questions. Only when the time is appropriate of course.
- Be a shadow. Do not interfere with anything, and always listen to what the doctor tells you to do.
That’s all for now! Thank you so much for reading this and I hope I’ve helped you in some way. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions, and I will try my best to answer what I can. Good luck to everyone!!!