“Shadowing” is a term to describe the process of following someone around in an effort to gain first-hand knowledge of that person. Shadowing a physician is no different; it refers to a period of time in which a pre-medical student spends time watching a physician’s daily activities in an effort to learn more about the life of a doctor. Physician shadowing programs are also referred to as student externships, physician observerships, physician mentor programs, medical internships, and other similar phrases that describe the process.
Reasons to Shadow a Physician
There are several reasons to shadow a doctor. Shadowing opportunities provide aspiring medical students with unique insights in the life of a physician. Furthermore, most medical schools encourage pre-meds to have at least one shadowing experience prior to matriculation.
More and more medical school admissions committees take into account shadowing experiences when considering an applicant. Although it may seem unusual to some, many medical schools prefer students to have some time shadowing even though they may have extensive clinical experience.
Shadowing a Doctor is Generally Expected
Medical schools expect applicants to possess experience shadowing a physician. In recent years, shadowing a physician has become an unwritten requirement for medical school admissions. As a result, many students choose to shadow a physician that they have known for years, such as a family physician or a family member. Those who do not have experience shadowing a physician will not be considered as competitive.
Learn About "Real World" Medicine
Shadowing a physician gives you a first hand look at the day-to-day life of a doctor. Some physicians have their own offices while some may spend the majority of his/her time in an operating room or hospital. When you shadow a doctor, the goal should be to learn and see the environment experienced by a physician in practice.
Furthermore, shadowing a doctor in a clinical setting should provide premeds with a more accurate depiction of the medical field. The recent popularity of television shows involving medicine often time paint a picture of the life of a doctor in a more glamorous light.
Also, physician shadowing allows premeds the ability to see different specialties and aspects of medicine that they would not otherwise see until their second or third year of medical school.
A personal relationship with a physician provides an easier method of requesting letters of recommendation from current M.D.'s. If the physician you have shadowed is willing to write a letter of recommendation for you, he or she is much more capable of providing medical school admissions committees with a personalized and professional depiction of you. Furthermore, if possible, you should seek to shadow a physician that graduated from one of the medical schools to which you are applying.
Shadowing a physician allows premedical students to develop a professional relationship that centers around the medical field. This is especially important for those premeds who haven't had the opportunity to be surrounded by medicine.
Adequate experience in a clinical setting is a part of to preparing for your future years in medical school. If you apply to medical school but your application shows little or no direct exposure to the practice of medicine, you will not be as competitive as other applicants who have spent large amounts of time in a clinical environment. Students should try to obtain experience in a medical environment in order to make an informed decision to pursue a career in medicine and to make an informed decision about which field of medicine to pursue.
The Personal Statement
Almost all aspiring medical students struggle when writing their personal statement for medical school applications. Shadowing a physician provides students that may not have otherwise been exposed to medicine with content unique to their own perceptions. More often than not, especially for students who have mediocre MCAT scores or GPA's below 3.5, the personal statement may be the deciding factor for some medical school admissions committees.
Shadowing a physician can give you the ability to provide specific accounts of your decision to become a doctor. Being able to reflect and talk about your experiences shadowing a physician may give you the ability to write and talk about your passion for medicine easily.
We currently only have locations for shadowing a physician in the United States, however, we are looking to soon expand to other countries as well. However, for those located in the U.S., whether you are in New York or California, you can find a listing of physician shadowing opportunities in your area. See our physician shadowing opportunities page for more information.