Getting a Letter Of Recommendation From Shadowing a Physician (Complete Guide)

If you are familiar with my premed back story, you know that I’m a huge fan of shadowing. Just to put it in perspective, I shadowed an OB/Gyn for 200+ hours over the course of an entire summer.

The primary reason for my shadow experience was to get an inside look at the pros and cons of being a physician. But another reason was to get a good quality letter of recommendation.

Keep reading to find out:

  • Is it possible to get a letter of recommendation from shadowing a doctor?
  • How long you should shadow someone before asking for one?
  • How do you ask for a letter of recommendation?
  • When should you be asking for a letter of recommendation?

Can You Get a Letter Of Recommendation From Shadowing?

First things first, is it even possible to get a letter of recommendation from a physician you shadow? Is this something that premed students should be doing?

Yes. You can, and should, get a letter of recommendation from shadowing a physician. This is one of the best ways to receive a letter of recommendation due to the fact that you spend a lot of one on one time together.

When shadowing a physician you ideally will spend the entire day with them. You’ll see everything from regular patient visits to surgical procedures. This gives you lots of opportunities to ask good questions and make a lasting impression on the physician.

In my experience, it’s normal to basically become friends with the physician you are shadowing. At the very least you will be close acquaintances which each other. Because of this, they are more likely to spend time writing a good quality letter for you.

Purpose of Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation are another way for med schools to evaluate candidates. They are particularly important because they give the admission committee a way to judge your character, work ethic, and overall stableness.

You can be a 4.0 student with lots and lots of volunteer experiences but be a terrible person at heart. This is obviously not good for a profession that is looking for candidates with the will to serve others.

The only way for schools to make judgments on your morality and character is through the eyes of people who know you. Ideally, these people will also be unbiased (AKA not family members).

This is why letters of recommendation are so important.

How Long Should You Shadow a Doctor Before Asking For a Letter Of Recommendation?

There isn’t necessarily a rule for this but we will try our best.

The longer you spend with the physician, the better they will get to know you and therefore write a better letter of recommendation. You should spend at least 30 hours shadowing the physician before asking for a letter.

But here’s the thing, your situation can be much different than other students. The ability to build rapport with the physician you are shadowing is going to depend on your personality as well as his or her.

So instead of focusing on the number of hours you should shadow before asking for a letter of recommendation, focus on the quality of your relationship with the doctor. Do you feel comfortable around them? Do you get the impression they are impressed with you?

Some people can spend 10 hours with a doctor and leave such a good impression that they are ready to ask for that letter. But in my opinion, even if this is the case you should wait. The longer you shadow a doctor the more they will be able to say about you.

Therefore, wait for that 30-hour mark and make sure that you have developed a good relationship with the person you are shadowing before asking for a letter of recommendation.

Further Reading: How long should you shadow a doctor?

Ask Great Questions And Show Interest

When asking for a letter of recommendation from a physician you shadowed, the goal is to make sure you left as good of an impression as possible.

Therefore, it is important that you get really involved with your shadowing gig. Make sure you ask a lot of good questions. If you need help thinking of good questions, we wrote a whole guide which you can check out here:

In addition to this, make sure you are showing interest. Doctors love to talk about their careers and medicine. Pay attention and do not look uninterested. Follow this advice and they will think very highly of you.

How Do You Ask For a Letter Of Recommendation From Shadowing a Doctor?

The good news is that doctors have been in your shoes before so they understand the importance of letters of recommendation.

Don’t overthink it.

Just say something like:

“Hey, I really enjoyed shadowing you and really appreciate the opportunity. I know you’re a really busy person, but when you get a chance, could you write a letter of recommendation for me? My plan is to apply to med school this year.”

It should be really easy since you have already built a relationship with them.

They’ll say yes of course. Then you want to make sure they understand where it goes. Most likely you will have a committee letter. If this is the case, follow your premed department’s rules on how to submit the letter.

Email Template For Asking A Physician For A Letter Of Recommendation

If you prefer to ask via email, here’s a template you could use.

Dear Dr. ______,

Thank you so much for the opportunity to shadow you. I found the experience exhilarating and informative. 

My plan is to apply to medical school this year and I'm needing letters of recommendation. Could you write me a letter of recommendation that highlights my enthusiasm for the medical profession, work ethic, and character? 

All of my letters of recommendation are compiled by my premed department. If you agree, please email the letter to _____ and please send a signed copy to:

(Provide address)

Thank you again for the amazing shadowing experience. I'm happy to jump on the phone with you if you had any questions about this process.

Best Regards,

(Your name)

How Far In Advance Should I Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation?

The last thing you want to be doing is chasing down doctors for letters of recommendation while trying to apply to med school. Doctors are super busy and they may take a long time to write that letter.

I recommend asking for any letter of recommendation several months before the application start date. That puts you at the end of January to early February timeframe.

This will give you plenty of time to wait for that letter and send reminders to the person writing your letter.

Conclusion: Should I Get A Letter Of Recommendation From A Doctor I Shadowed?

There is a tendency for students to avoid asking physicians they shadowed for extra favors. But I can’t stress it enough that you should ask for a letter of recommendation from any doctor that you shadowed.

Getting letters from professors is easy. You are around them all the time and they almost always say yes.

But unless you shadow a doctor, it’s difficult to get a physician’s letter of recommendation without asking a family member. Especially D.O. letters which are strongly encouraged for D.O. schools.

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