About Shadowing a Physician

First hand encounters of doctors in the workplace.

About Shadowing a Physician

About Shadowing a Physician

First, think about what kind of physician you want to shadow and why you want to shadow them. Decide whether you want to shadow a doctor that specializes in family practice or one that specializes in dermatology. A good place to start might be your family physician, or maybe even a friend of the family who practices medicine. You could start by checking the websites of hospitals and clinics in your area.

Gaining clinical experience and getting a a unique perspective on medicine should be the outcome. Look for shadowing programs other than formal ones. Formal programs that provide shadowing opportunities are rare and sometimes costly. Your goal should be to see the life of a physician and get first hand contact with patients.

When initiating contact with an unknown medical professional, you should probably take the time to ask in person. Get your resume and cover letter ready and explain why you would like to shadow. Call and ask for an appointment to speak with them, making sure that you are clear that it is not a medical consultation.

Sometimes, physicians are unwilling to allow premed students to shadow. Some may simply be unable to allow shadowing because of the environment in which they practice. Others may believe there is too much legal risk involved. You may end up asking many doctors before finding someone who will allow you to shadow.

About Shadowing a Physician

What is Shadowing a Physician?

Shadowing a physician or doctor is nothing more than watching what they do. It is a common practice engaged by premedical students and medical students in an effort to learn more about life as a doctor. Shadowing gives premedical students, especially whose with little or no clinical experience, the opportunity to experience medical practice first-hand.

You may think to yourself, “I’ve seen what my doctor does, so how is shadowing different?” There is a different aspect of patient care that remains hidden from the patient. Thinking you know about a physician’s career from a patient perspective is like learning about acting from watching television.

For example, most people think that practicing as a family physician involves only patient care. Spending a day with a family physician will teach you that there are a number of other activities that a physician must conduct in addition to patient care duties. Especially with the onset of widespread use of electronic medical records, physicians spend more of their time documenting patient care than they do engaging in patient care. It is impossible to experience those sorts of things will sitting on the exam table.

Shadowing Preparation

Although not mandatory, it is suggested that you have an updated resume or CV available when requesting to shadow a doctor. This will give the physician an indication of your clinical background and knowledge, as well as display your enthusiasm and professionalism.

Want to show off your sense of professionalism? A cover letter for your resume will give those you ask to shadow a brief overview of your credentials and experience. Also, many professionals tend to underestimate the value of well-written cover letter. Give your resume the edge to get ahead.

During the Shadowing Experience

If you are considering a career in medicine, you will be selflessly giving up your needs to focus on the medical needs of each of your patients and the needs of their families. Your patients and peers deserve your utmost respect and to be treated with dignity. As future physicians, you should always demonstrate this respect by appropriate dress and other professional behaviors. Each of the following etiquette considerations are very important: appearance, hygiene, clothing, communication skills.

Wondering what to ask when shadowing a doctor? Read about questions to ask a physician that you can use to make your shadowing experience more memorable. These questions will give you an indication of how to interact with a physician while shadowing in the office.

Patient Privacy Concerns

Patients are entitled to a certain degree of privacy. A patient has the right to determine whether or not observers should be allowed in the room while they are receiving care. Furthermore, the patient’s privacy extends to his or her information as well. Patient information, including things that an observer may see or hear, is protected and should be kept confidential.

Prior to your shadowing experience, educate yourself on patient privacy laws and HIPAA (Health Information Portability and Accountability Act) – www.hhs.gov/ocr/privacy Be sure that you are aware and knowledgeable about these regulations prior to requesting shadowing opportunities.

Read more about HIPAA Considerations.

The membership section also has a list of physician shadowing opportunities in the U.S. Check out the membership options for more details.


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