Shadowing Etiquette

What to do, what to wear, how to act, and what to bring for your shadowing experience.

Etiquette for Shadowing a Doctor

What should I wear?

Unless the physician with whom you are shadowing instructs you otherwise, the appropriate attire for a medical office setting is business attire. Of course, there are always exceptions (i.e., surgical areas, etc.). For example, if you are shadowing a physician who is performing surgery, you’ll be expected to wear scrubs while in the operating room. Some hospitals, however, have observation rooms available that provide a one-way mirror. Standard business attire may be acceptable in these areas, as they provide a barrier between the sterile environment and the observers.

Shadowing etiquette dictates males should wear a shirt and tie, slacks, and dress shoes. Females should wear a conservative skirt and blouse, dress, or suit. Remember, part of having a physician mentor you in a healthcare setting means looking the part. Also, if the doctor plans to write you a letter of recommendation, you can assure that you would like every impression to be positive.

What should I bring?

Regardless of your current profession, only bring items that are expected of a student. Bring a legal pad or composition book and some pens. DO NOT BRING A CAMERA! HIPAA is of great concern to physicians when it comes to shadowing opportunities. Taking photographs in a healthcare setting where there is first-hand patient contact is not advisable nor is it generally legal.

If you are one of the people who habitually check their cell phones for text messages of Facebook updates, you may want to leave your phone at home. Cell phones are not only distracting, but they also give an impression that something else in your life is of a higher priority. In addition to being unprofessional, it may be illegal for you to use your phone in a patient setting. If you are adamant about having your cell phone on your person, be sure to check with the physician or hospital.

What should I do?

First of all, be sure to be respectful. Take your directions directly from your sponsoring doctor. Do not be afraid to take notes, however, be sure that you refrain from documenting any patient related data. If a patient addresses you, be sure to identify yourself as a pre-medical student and kindly answer their questions. While taking notes, reflect on how the experiences you have endured will help you to succeed in medical school and eventually, as a healthcare professional.

Your position while shadowing is nothing more than an observer. You are there to watch, pay attention, and experience the nature of a practicing physician’s profession. Expect than many patients might be weary of your presence in concern for their privacy. Keeping this in mind, make an attempt to be somewhat invisible. If you have questions while patients are around, take note of them and ask them later when you have more one-on-one contact with the doctor.

Each day you shadow a doctor, jot down a summary of your experiences for the day. Keep note of the date, number of hours, the facility or environment, and the name of the doctor you observed. Write about what you saw and how it made you feel. Try to focus on the physician-patient interaction, and consider how you would feel and act in the position of the doctor. The summary will serve as a useful tool later on when you are completing your application, writing your personal statement, and during preparation for your interviews.

After Your Shadowing Experience

Send the doctor and anyone else you has provided you with help a simple thank you note. Be sure to request a letter of recommendation from the physician you have shadowed. Many schools prefer or even require a letter of recommendation from a physician. Keep them updated on your application progress, especially once you are accepted to a medical school.

While completing your medical school applications, be sure to include your shadowing experiences. Remember to look back on the journal and notes you kept when writing your personal statement. Also, be prepared to answer questions regarding your shadowing experiences in your interview and secondary applications.


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