MSHQ 012 : Shadowing Secrets for Every Premed and Beyond

Session 12

Session 12

In this episode, Ryan and Allison talk all about shadowing, which is a pretty common question among many premed students – where to shadow, what shadowing is, what expectations are there, and more!

Here are the highlights of the conversation with Ryan and Allison:

What is shadowing?

  • Observing a physician in the clinic, hospital, O.R. or wherever the physician works, going through a typical day, giving you first hand knowledge to see what life is really like as a physician.
  • Ryan best describes it as being “a fly on the wall; while Allison thinks your shadowing experience can turn into something so much more than you ever thought imaginable that can make a difference over your career

Reasons for shadowing:

  • To gain first hand, tangible knowledge of what it's like to practice as a physician
  • Gives you a sense of what the perks are of being a physician as well as the rewards and challenges (You also get to see how much paperwork is involved in your day-to-day life)
  • Building relationships and a strong network of people you can rely on and use later (think letters of recommendation)
  • To strengthen your medical school application in a way that you get to demonstrate your work ethic such that the person will recommend you for medical school
  • Getting a unique one-on-one opportunity to learn actively from a physician
  • To help out the team while you're there and they can help you
  • To see if you actually really like to become a physician
  • To get exposed to different specialties and figure out what you might be interested in

Shadowing Basics: Where and how to start

  • Talk to your family, friends, teachers who know physicians or are physicians themselves
  • Your own primary care physician
  • Don't be afraid to reach out a physician and make a phone call or send an email.
  • Call a hospital (volunteering office) or private practice and say that you want to shadow somebody at the hospital so they could set you up to somebody.

Why you want to shadow:

  • Be honest about why you want to shadow and why they would be a good person to work with and shadow.
  • Set your goals and expectations. Clarify for yourself and the physician why you are shadowing (letter of recommendation or are you thinking of going there for residency)

If you're doing it for a letter of recommendation:

  • Set aside enough time to build that relationship
  • Ryan shadowed 2-3 times a week for several months and he got a killer letter of recommendation.
  • As with Allison's case, she shadowed a cardiologist for 3 summers for several months over each summer. In medical school, she shadowed a neurologist over most of the summers

Tips on your first day of shadowing:

  • Be punctual. Be early. Show up on time for rounds or when the clinic opens.
  • Introduce yourself to the physician, their staff, and other healthcare providers that work there
  • Sit and look through the day
  • Get to know the physician a little bit and share about who you are
  • Begin by looking at the patient load for the day
  • Be discrete and be very polite so as not to make the patients feel uncomfortable.
  • Ask questions in between patients.

Fashion basics when shadowing:

  • No heels inside the OR
  • Dress appropriately
  • Ask beforehand as to where to find your scrubs
  • Always wear closed-toed shoes
  • Keep your nails free of polish or neutral (no bright colors)
  • Don't wear a white coat
  • Business casual. No need for suits. A buttoned-down shirt and a tie will do.

How to make the most out of your shadowing before you leave:

  • Take notes. Bring a pen and notebook with you and make sure to keep that with you.
  • Turn this experience into something you can use for your application by being always open and taking on more things while you're there.
  • Continue to be excited about what you're doing while you're there
  • Continue to build that relationship in the future by following up and sending emails
  • Take the time to really acknowledge the physician for taking you on
  • Thank the physician and other people on the team or hospital
  • Look for active opportunities to go back and work with that physician

Some pieces of advice for premed students:

Keep yourself open to all possibilities.

Do you have a life-changing shadowing experience? Let us know below!

Links and Other Resources: – We didn't talk about it during the session, but this is a relatively new site that offers a resource to find shadowing opportunities. And it's free!

If you need any help with the medical school interview, go to Sign up and you will receive parts of the book so you can help shape the future of the book. This book will include over 500 questions that may be asked during interview day as well as real-life questions, answers, and feedback from all of the mock interviews Ryan has been doing with students.

Are you a nontraditional student? Go check out

For more great content, check out for more of the shows produced by the Medical School Headquarters including the OldPremeds Podcast and watch out for more shows in the future!

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