How to Prepare to Shadow a Doctor

A few things to do before your shadowing experience to prepare.

How to Prepare to Shadow a Doctor

CC Image courtesy of Zdenko Zivkovic on Flickr

There are several things premed students should know that may help to prepare to shadow a doctor. Preparation will hopefully reduce the number of surprises you encounter and streamline the shadowing process. The following highlights some documents that you may want to have ready when you find an opportunity shadowing a physician. These pertain mostly to hospital and other healthcare organizations, but could also apply to private practices or group clinics.


Some shadowing experiences, especially formal shadowing programs, may require premed students to submit an application to be considered for shadowing opportunities. These programs will likely consider your GPA, MCAT score, and other objective attributes that qualify you relative to your peers. Most organizations will have students who are shadowing to complete a contact data and information form as a minimum requirement. Others may require a letter of good standing from your university, college transcripts, or a written statement/essay of why you want to pursue becoming a physician.

Criminal Background Checks

Hospitals and physicians possess a need to protect the welfare and safety of their patients, which includes taking appropriate preventative measures to ensure the physical safety and security of the premises. A hospital of physician may require a criminal background check to help screen out volunteers and employees who might present potential threats to security.

Generally speaking, organizations are only concerned with convictions of criminal conduct. It is very common for criminal records to contain all crime-related information pertaining to any given person. The information will include records of arrests, felony convictions, misdemeanor convictions,  and any other legal information that is pertinent to your criminal history.

Healthcare workers, including students, are given preliminary questionnaires that ask about prior trouble with the law. It’s best to be honest, as these questionnaires are designed to save both you and the healthcare organization time and money.

Drug Screening

Healthcare organizations nearly always require a drug screening for all employees, volunteers, and students. Because of the high cost of  alternatives, many companies opt- for a urinalysis screening, of which the “10-panel drug test” is the most common.10-panel drug tests include testing for the use of the following substances:

  • Amphetamines (including Methamphetamine) – Amphetamines still prescribed for ADD and ADHD. Common names include Adderall, Vyvanse, Ritalin.
  • Barbiturates
  • Benzodiazepines. Prescription medication for anxiety, panic disorders, insomnia, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Common names include Valium, Diazepam, Xanax, Paxil, Ativan.
  • Buprenorphine – Used to treat opiod addicition.
  • Cannabinoids (THC, “Marijuana”)
  • Cocaine
  • Methadone – A synthetic opioid prescribed to treat opiod dependence.
  • Methaqualone (Quaalude, “ludes”)
  • Opioids (Codeine, Morphine, Heroin, Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, etc.) – Often prescribed for pain relief.
  • Phencyclidine (PCP, “angel dust”)
  • Propoxyphene – Medication prescribed for pain relief. Common names include Darvon and Darvocet.
  • Synthetic cannabinoids (K2, Spice) – Drugs designed to mimic the effects of marijuana.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants – Prescribed as a treatment for clinical depression.

Drug screenings can be costly and some hospitals will choose to deffer the cost to those being screened by referring you to an external company. This means that you may responsible for paying for the cost of the drug test. Costs can range from $20 to $200, depending on who administers the test. Alternatively, the hospital may conduct the test using its own resources. If you are currently taking any prescription medications or supplements, it would be best to bring records of these substances, as they can sometimes cause false positives for drug use.

Immunization Records

Prior to shadowing, you’ll want to ensure that all of your immunizations are up-to-date, and that you posses a record of them. Immunizations help prevent infection and spread of viruses, which are important in a clinical setting. Most healthcare workers are required by organizations to maintain the following immunizations:

  • MMR – Measles, Mumps, and Rubella
  • Varicella – Chicken Pox Vaccine
  • Hepatitis A and/or Hepatitis B
  • Diphtheria / Tetanus
  • PPD
  • Flu Vaccine

If you know you’ve had these and can’t find a record of them, it may be best to check with your local health department. Most of these vaccinations are required to attend public and private schools, and documentation is often recorded by the local health department or even the schools themselves.

Healthcare-Related Education

Hospital workers, volunteers, and students are usually required to be educated on healthcare-related topics. Because of the largely dynamic nature of the medical field, these requirements may need to be updated every 6 months to a year. Education topics may include things such as blood-borne pathogens, infection control in a healthcare setting, healthcare safety and security, or disaster response. Also, it may prove beneficial to keep copies of any healthcare-related certifications on hand, such as CPR/BLS.


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