So we all know that shadowing is important. Medical schools love shadowing experience — the more doctors you shadow the better your medical school application will look. But sometimes finding a doctor who will let you shadow him or her can be difficult, especially if you don’t personally know any doctors. Here are 9 tips for finding a doctor to shadow.
Also, if you are new to shadowing, I recommend you check out our ultimate guide to shadowing as a premed student. This guide answers any questions you might have about shadowing and sets you up for success when it’s time to start!
#1 Talk To Your School Doctor
If you are an undergrad student, chances are you have a school doctor. Find them, talk to them, and try getting a job working at the clinic. This is a great way to start because if you do manage to get a job working at your school clinic, chances are you will get opportunities to shadow the doctor with his or her patients.
Even if you don’t get the opportunity to shadow them directly, you will develop an important connection in the medical field. Your school doctor knows other doctors, and having a connection with them is a “foot in the door” for more shadowing.
I personally worked in my student clinic for a semester. Not only was I getting first-hand patient experience and school credits, but I was also getting plenty of shadowing hours with a family medicine doctor.
#2 Talk To Your Family Doctor
When I say talk to your family doctor, I really mean talk to any doctor to whom you consistently go for whatever reason. Even if you don’t see them frequently, talk to them anyway — it never hurts to ask.
Most doctors love helping pre-meds out because they have been there before. I remember talking to one of my doctors about how I was pre-med, and he offered me a shadowing experience before I even asked!
Also, if your family physician works in a small clinic, chances are you will get to experience some patient interaction. They may have you help them move people, assist in basic procedures, and even practice interviewing the patients!
#3 Talk To Friends And Family
If you know a doctor in your family then you’re set, but sometimes you need to dig a little bit deeper to find one.
Ask every uncle, aunt, cousin, second cousin, etc until you find one. If that doesn’t work, ask your friends or significant other if they know of one.
I got a shadowing experience for an entire summer through my wife’s family. This was nice because since we shared her family he was open to calling me whenever there was a c-section or vaginal delivery, even if it was at 3 in the morning! Being “on-call” with a physician really puts you in their shoes.
This method of finding a doctor is probably the best way to start because if there is someone within your family or network of friends, they are more likely willing to let you shadow them.
#4 Get Involved With Volunteering First
For the most part, becoming a volunteer at a hospital or clinic is easy. Becoming a volunteer is not only beneficial for your medical school application, but it is also a great way to meet doctors. Meeting doctors means developing connections and ultimately establishing a shadowing opportunity.
Some volunteer organizations do the work for you. For instance, a hospital in my city has a volunteer program specifically for college students. This program asks you to do 8 hours of volunteering a week and then they set you up with 2-4 hour shadowing shifts with doctors around the hospital!
Even if your volunteer program doesn’t directly set you up with a physician, you should have no problem finding one by asking around.
#5 Get A Job Scribing
Scribing alone is pretty much shadowing a physician. But if you are looking for shadowing hours that are strictly shadowing, scribing is a great way to build new connections.
When you are a medical scribe you spend a lot of time talking to the physician you are working for. Because of this, you develop a relationship. The physician you are scribing for is more inclined to reach out to his or her buddies for possible shadowing opportunities.
#6 Check To See If Your School Has Any Preceptorship Programs
Lots of Universities offer a preceptorship program for premed students. This is essentially school credits for shadowing a physician. Usually, at the end, you will have to write an essay or perform a presentation.
When schools offer a preceptorship program, they will usually offer a list of physicians to reach out to. This reduces the need to search around.
#7 Shadow Abroad
Another great opportunity to get shadowing hours from a physician is doing an abroad premed internship or mission trip.
One example of an internship that provides lots and lots of shadowing hours is Atlantis. Through Atlantis you get the opportunity to shadow all kinds of specialties in European hospitals.
Another great way to get physician shadowing hours (And serve third world countries!) is attending mission trips. One of my friends in college did a mission trip through ISL.
This was an amazing experience for my friend. She worked directly alongside a physician to provide health services to a poverty-stricken community in South America. This was more than just a shadowing experience. Because this country severely lacked medical professionals, she would assist in procedures and saw her own patients!
#8 Cold Call
Not the most appealing method, but hey if it brings you closer to your goal of becoming a physician, why not. Cold call means simply looking up a doctor’s phone number, calling them, and asking if they offer pre-med students shadowing opportunities.
Yea, a lot of places might say no, but it never hurts to ask. One thing I should mention: call private practices. They don’t have to abide by any hospital rules or regulations that would prevent them from allowing students to shadow them.
#9 Cold Email
Very similar to cold calling. Reach out to every clinic or private practice in the area and send an email to the front desk. Simply ask if any of the physicians there are okay with you shadowing them for a little while.
You will have to send out a lot more emails than you would have to make cold calls, but this eliminates the awkward conversation on the phone.
There is no reason for anybody to not have a shadowing gig set up after following these tips. I have had 3 great shadowing experiences using 2 of these methods. The other tips come from people I know who have had success, and others I don’t know but are also working hard toward becoming doctors.
Do yourself a favor and take actionable steps today! You will be surprised by how fast you can find physicians to shadow. Because at the end of the day, every doctor was once a pre-med. They understand how difficult this process is and most doctors are happy to help.