Physician Shadowing FAQ

Frequently asked questions about shadowing a doctor.

Clinical Experience Shadowing a Physician

What is shadowing a physician?

“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.

Many hospitals, clinics and other medical organizations consider shadowing opportunities to be no more than observation. It is important to clarify with the organization to what extent you will be able to become involved. Some physicians will allow students to be more active in the patient examination process than others. Students may have the opportunity to interact with patients, while other students may only be allowed to watch with little or no interaction.

Is physician shadowing required to get into medical school?

No… sort of. Many medical schools expect that pre-medical students will have some type of experience shadowing a physician. Osteopathic medical schools explicitly recommend that aspiring D.O.’s spend some time with an osteopathic physician. Osteopathic medicine is a rapidly growing field in primary care and D.O.’s take a slightly different approach to patient care.

How much time should I spend shadowing a physician?

You should spend as much time as possible dedicated to shadowing a physician, but not necessarily with the same doctor. If possible, look into spending a day or two with several physicians who specialize in different areas.

I asked a physician if I could shadow them and the physician told me that I could not due to HIPAA. Why?


Patient privacy is of specific concern when it comes to unlicensed personnel watching a physician care for patients. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) Privacy and Security Rules protects the health information of individuals and holds healthcare providers to very strict guidelines. The physician possesses the responsibility to the patient to protect the patient’s privacy. If a pre-medical student were to violate this confidentiality agreement, the physician could incur legal and civil troubles.

Should I shadow a doctor in a hospital setting or in an office?

Shadowing a physician in an office and shadowing a physician in a hospital provide their own unique benefits to the shadowing experience. A private office may provide premedical students with a more relaxed experience as well as provide insight to the life of doctors who own their own practice. On the other hand, hospitals generally have a more diverse collection of specialties which leave the student with and assortment of experiences in a shorter period of time.

Premedical students will find that not all physicians will allow students to shadow them. Also, many hospital have explicit policies forbidding any shadowing opportunities. Be sure to ask about the policies regarding shadowing opportunities before assuming that all organizations are alike.

Also, if you are shadowing a physician at a hospital, check with the hospital to inquire about any policies and procedures prior to your arrival. Students may be required to get a parking pass, a visitor’s badge, have a HIPAA class, and sometimes background checks or drug screenings. These are all things that premedical students should consider when preparing to shadow a doctor, even if the student requested the doctor and not the hospital.

See Also: Shadowing Etiquette – How to Act, What to Wear, and What to do while shadowing a doctor.


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