• Dr. Samir Desai

How To Locate and Land Shadowing Experiences: 7 expert strategies for premed students

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

The Importance of Shadowing in the Medical School Admissions Process

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These 7 expert strategies will help premed students locate and land shadowing experiences

Joe was a premedical student who contacted me several years ago. Unfortunately, he had applied to medical school but hadn't gotten in. In evaluating his application, I noted one important factor: although Joe had a good GPA, a competitive MCAT score, and strong extracurricular activities, he lacked shadowing experience.

Doctor with stethoscope holding toddler
Although it can be challenging to locate shadowing opportunities, these experiences are considered extremely important in the medical school admissions process

Shadowing Experiences Can be Hard to Locate

I asked Joe why he hadn't spent any time shadowing. He told me that he had tried, but he just hadn't been able to land any shadowing opportunities. Unfortunately, this isn't unusual.

While some applicants are readily able to participate in shadowing experiences, others struggle to do so. Spend some time on premedical discussion forums, and you'll see how often this issue comes up.

In Joe's case, I explained that locating opportunities to shadow was critical before he applied again to medical school. (For more on why shadowing experience is so important to the medical school admissions process, please see this post.)

Despite the obstacles, however, I've worked with many applicants to help them design a strategy to locate shadowing opportunities.

In the modern era, with HIPPA regulations in place that protect patient privacy, you may have more challenges than previous groups of students. Despite these challenges, there are still multiple approaches and strategies to locate and land opportunities to shadow.

In this post, I'm going to outline 7 of those strategies.

How to Land Shadowing Experiences: 7 Main Strategies

Strategy #1: Ask Your Own Physician

I call this the path of least resistance. You can simply start by asking your own family physician or doctor. One benefit of this approach is that you have an established relationship.

If your doctor isn't allowed to have students shadow, which is often the case, you can then ask him or her for the names of colleagues who aren't bound by such policies. You can then contact this physician. "I'm a premedical student at the University of Houston, and my physician Dr. Desai suggested that I contact you."

In Joe's case, it wasn't going to be that simple. He lived in a college town 1000 miles from where he grew up. During college, he had never needed to see a doctor. So clearly reaching out to his personal physician wasn't going to work.

Strategy #2: Ask family members and friends

Your mother, father, siblings, and other family members may be able to reach out to their own physicians. They may also have friends who are physicians. In fact, just about anyone in your network may be connected to a physician who might be open to having students shadow them.

Strategy #3: Ask your classmates

Upperclassmen are a rich source of information and can often point you in the right direction. Were they able to shadow a particular physician? Do they have any suggestions on who you might be able to ask? You should also consider reaching out to students who have graduated from your college and are now in medical school.

Joe happened to attend a very small college. Every year there were just a few students who went on to medical school. Unfortunately, he had no direct connection to these students. Having said that, if his other strategies weren't successful, he would consider reaching out to them, using their alumni status as a point of connection.

Strategy #4: Talk to your premedical adviser

Every premedical department will have had students who have succeeded in locating shadowing opportunities, so you should definitely talk to your premedical adviser. Some advisors will keep a list of doctors who accept students for shadowing.

Strategy #5: Join your college premedical society

Shadowing experiences can also be arranged through your college's premedical society. These societies have often been in existence for quite some time, and may have well-established shadowing programs. Even if they don't, joining the society will allow you to network and learn who other premedical students have shadowed.

Joe's premedical adviser was new to his position, and unfortunately wasn't very knowledgeable about shadowing opportunities. He also noted that his college did not have premedical organizations on campus.

I then asked Joe about his hospital volunteer work.

Strategy #6:

Volunteer in a hospital, at a charity clinic, or for a medical non-profit

Working in a hospital, clinic, or for a medical non-profit often puts you into close contact with all types of physicians.

Unfortunately, the nature of most volunteer positions is such that you often won't be directly working with the doctors that you encounter. They will obviously be very busy, so it can be difficult to find the right time to approach them.

Therefore, it’s often more feasible to speak with other healthcare professionals to reach the doctor.

For example, if you're volunteering on a hospital floor working with nurses or nurses’ aides, ask them about doctors who might be open to students seeking shadowing opportunities. Once you've identified a doctor, ask the nurse to arrange an introduction.

Strategy #7: Reach out directly to physicians

If you can't locate shadowing opportunities through friends, family, fellow students, pre advisors, premedical societies or your volunteer work, it's time to take it to the next level.

These next steps require you to take even more initiative.

Start by making a list of practicing physicians in different specialties in your area. You can easily do this with the power of the internet.

One approach is to now email these practices. As you do so, keep in mind that your email is the first impression you're making on a physician whom you don't know.

What should I say to a physician when I'm reaching out for a shadowing opportunity?

Two things are important here.

Your email must have the right content, and it must look professional.

In terms of content, it must be clear who you are, where you study, what you're seeking, why you're seeking it, and how you've come across their name.

What should I say in my email?

Here's one example of an email script

Dear Dr. Chen,

My name is Joe Robertson, and I am currently a graduate student in the Department of Biochemistry at Texas University. I am very interested in pursuing a career in medicine and would love to explore the profession further.

Up to this point, I have volunteered in the emergency room at Mercy Hospital. I am now searching for opportunities to shadow physicians so that I can be more informed about a career in medicine. I came across your name and contact information from your practice's website. If your clinic permits students to shadow, I would be honored to be able to come and observe.