Shadowing doctors before going to medical school is very important. Not only is it an amazing learning experience, but shadowing better prepares you for medical school. Most pre-med students will shadow before applying to medical school and you may get the impression that shadowing is a mandatory requirement. But how many hours of shadowing before medical school is actually required?
Before we continue with the post, I recommend you check out our guide on everything you need to know about shadowing as a premed. This guide will take you step-by-step through the whole shadowing process.
What do Medical Schools Require? (Number of Shadowing Hours)
Technically for most medical schools shadowing a physician is not required. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take shadowing seriously and there are some schools with actual shadowing hour requirements.
Medical Schools want to see that you know what you are getting yourself into. They want to see that you are prepared for a career as a physician and that you are willing to put in the work. Far too often pre-med students get an idea of what a career in medicine is like and become incredibly goal-oriented without stopping to think about whether it is actually the right career for them.
Yes, it’s important to have tunnel vision because getting into medical school is a very difficult and long task. However, you can’t have tunnel vision at the expense of everything else. You don’t want to end up being a burnt-out physician that regrets going into medicine but now is forced to stay because they took out $300K of student loans.
Your pre-med years are the time to really figure out whether or not becoming a physician is the right career path for you. This is why medical school applications have a section for shadowing.
Once again, there isn’t technically an hour requirement for shadowing before medical school. However, you need to convince medical schools that you know what you are getting yourself into. Unless there is a clear indication of this somewhere else on your application, you will need some shadowing hours.
What is the Ideal Amount of Shadowing Hours for Medical School?
It is hard to quantify how many hours of physician shadowing you need to gain that understanding of what med school and a career in medicine are all about.
Shadowing a physician for one 8-hour shift won’t be helpful because you will only get a small glimpse of his or her lifestyle. A physician’s schedule can look a lot different depending on the day. You want a range of days so that you can experience the good, the bad, the ugly.
Therefore, it is necessary to shadow a physician for several days.
Also, you want variety in your physician shadowing hours. The difference between medical specialties is huge. The lifestyle of a radiologist will be much different than an orthopedic surgeon.
Medical Schools like to see variety because they want to see that you have experienced different aspects of medicine and also that you have an open mind.
When you get into medical school, you will be studying all kinds of different specialties. The med students that do well are the ones that keep an open mind and pursue a field they enjoy and are best at.
The “ideal” amount of shadowing hours is going to be subjective. Everyone will have their own opinion. But as long as you keep in mind that experiencing several different days with a variety of specialties is important, you can come to a conclusion on the ideal amount of hours you should shadow before medical school.
If I was forced to give an answer I would say the ideal number of hours of shadowing a physician is 100. This gives you the chance to shadow 3 different specialties for 4 full days of work.
But if you have the extra time, do even more! Shadowing can be a very enjoyable experience, so go nuts.
Further Reading: 9 Tips for Finding a Doctor to Shadow
What is the Minimum Amount of Shadowing Hours Medical Schools Require?
Medical Schools don’t necessarily have a minimum requirement for physician shadowing hours. Students have gotten in with 0 hours of shadowing.
However, as I alluded to above, there is an unspoken understanding that medical schools require students to have enough clinical experience that gives them an understanding of what medicine is all about.
Shadowing just happens to be ideal because it’s a voluntary activity directed purely at experiencing the day in a life of a physician. Therefore, unless you have some other kind of extracurricular that covers this, you can assume the minimum amount of shadowing hours is the number of hours it takes to really get an understanding of what life as a physician really means.
Quality of Shadowing is Important for your Med School Application
It is important that you shoot for quality over quantity when it comes to shadowing a doctor. You can do the bare minimum, follow some family doctor you know, and check that box on the AMCAS, TMDSAS, or AACOMAS. But medical schools aren’t just looking to see if you checked the box, they want to see more.
I’ve talked about bringing a notebook with you when you shadow someone. One of the main reasons why I suggest this is because it’ll help you remember things that had a strong impact on you. When it’s time to apply to medical school, you can get that notebook out and include highly specific impactful events that reinforced your desire to go to medical school.
Medical schools love seeing this kind of stuff. They appreciate students that aren’t just trying to check a box but rather students who demonstrate that they actually got something out of the experience.
Can Clinical Hours Count as Physician Shadowing Hours?
It’s important to understand the fundamental difference between shadowing and clinical experience. Medical school HQ does a great job of explaining it. Shadowing is a passive experience that involves watching the physician interact with patients while clinical experience involves you directly interacting with patients.
Both are important experiences but very different.
When you shadow a physician you are demonstrating to medical schools that you have an idea of what being a physician is actually like and you aren’t going into this career blind.
Your clinical experience will demonstrate to medical schools that you have a desire to help people and you are willing to devote your time to patients.
So, generally speaking, you can assume that clinical hours do not count as physician shadowing hours. However, there are certain cases where they can kind of count.
For example, I scribed for a year. During this time I primarily helped the physician with his paperwork and aided the patients whenever I could. But I also spent time just observing the doctor at work, just like I would shadowing. I would not count this as “shadowing hours” on my application, but I would include in the description of my clinical experience that I spent many hours just observing the physician at his or her job.
Another example is my experience working at my University’s student clinic. Most of my job involved prepping patients and organizing appointments. However, sometimes the doctor would call me into an appointment to let me shadow her. Once again, this counts as “clinical hours” but I would include that it involved shadowing in the description.
Make sure you remember the main point for shadowing a physician before medical school: Understanding what being a physician actually means so that you can make the right decision about going to medical school.
Far too often pre-med students get in the weeds with the “requirements” for getting into medical school. While there are actual med school requirements and you shouldn’t ignore them, you don’t want to be focused on checking a box.
The med school application is not a system you can game by putting in the right inputs. At the end of the day, there are real doctors and professors reviewing your application who are looking for students that will become great doctors. These people in charge of your application are smart and they know when students are just trying to reach what they believe are competitive hours.
I hope after reading this post you can see why it is important to understand the purpose of shadowing. If you know why medical schools are looking for these kinds of experiences you can better understand how many more hours you need before submitting that application.
If you have any questions or additional advice, please leave a comment below!
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