How Long Should I Shadow A Doctor? (Simple Answer Inside)

If you have found a physician to shadow, you probably wonder what is an appropriate length of time to shadow them. Do you go in every day of the week? How many hours should you shadow them?

As premed students, we want as much exposure to medicine as we can get, but we also understand that a physician’s time is valuable and we don’t want to be a burden. 

The good news is that most doctors are happy to have students follow them around. 

So how long should you shadow a doctor? I recommend shadowing a physician for at least 50 hours over a period of 4 or more weeks. But of course, everyone’s situation is different so this recommendation can be altered to meet your needs. 

Let’s see what other students have done. 

How Long Do Most Premed Students Shadow A Physician?

I surveyed 28 premed students to see how long they shadowed a physician. Most premed students shadowed a physician for 1 week or less and the second most popular choice was to shadow for over 2 months. Most premed students want to fit their shadowing schedules between busy periods of their undergrad studies or over their summer breaks. 

Here is are the results: 

How Long Do Most Premed Students Shadow A Physician?
  • 1 week or less: 13
  • 1 week to 1 month: 4
  • 1 month to 2 months: 3
  • Over 2 months: 8

The number of hours per day and per week varied as well.

Generally speaking the longer someone shadowed a doctor the fewer hours per week they shadowed. So most students who shadowed for a week or less did a full 40-hour workweek while students who shadowed for more than 2 months did 20 hours or less per week. 

How Many Hours Should I Shadow A Physician?

I gave you the length of time you should shadow a physician but how many hours exactly do most premed students shadow one doctor? 

The common consensus is 50 hours. 

50 hours is a good amount of time to really get to know the profession without overstaying your welcome. However, everyone’s situation is different so don’t feel bad if you can’t do more than a day or 2. Shadowing experience is always beneficial no matter how many hours you do. 

What about doing more than 50 hours?

If you can, I would recommend doing more. I spent one summer shadowing an OB/Gyn physician and I probably shadowed for over 300 hours. Granted I knew the doctor so it never got weird. If you are cold calling physicians, you may not want to go overboard like this unless he/she is super laid back and you get along. 

What I loved about shadowing for so many hours was that I got to see almost everything. I really got to experience what it was like to be an OB/Gyn through the good, the bad, and the ugly. Also, some procedures just don’t happen that often and I would have missed them had I not been there for such an extended amount of time. 

Set Up A Specific Length of Time Before Hand

marked calendar

Now this advice is not too important but based on experience, I recommend setting up a time frame you plan on shadowing with your doctor. Especially if it’s a physician that you cold-called.

When I cold-called for shadowing opportunities, I actually had the number of hours in mind beforehand and led with that. In my case, my post bacc program required 40 hours of shadowing so I asked the physician “Hey would you be willing to let me shadow you for a 40 hour week?”

When you don’t set up this time frame, you run into the awkward scenario where the physician is like “Hey how much longer will you be here?” And you don’t know so you throw out a number hoping he or she is cool with it. 

If you are shadowing a physician that you know, setting up a time frame probably doesn’t really matter. I would go with the flow at that point. 

How Long Should I Shadow A Doctor To Ask For A Letter Of Recommendation?

If your goal is to obtain a letter of recommendation after your shadowing experience, you need to make sure you are giving it enough time to fully immerse yourself in the profession. 

Once again, 50 hours is a good number. You will have experienced a large portion of the specific specialty you are shadowing and the doctor will have had plenty of time to get to know you. 

As long as you left a good impression, he or she will have plenty of good things to write about in your letter of recommendation. 

Should I Shadow More Than One Doctor?

Shadowing multiple doctors

Yes! Please shadow as many different specialties as you can. 

Not only will this help you write more interesting medical school essays, but you will have a better idea of what you want your medical career to be like. This is going to be your life! Make sure you are fully aware of what you are getting into. 

Should You Shadow A Physician All Day Or Less?

This depends on your schedule, but I recommend shadowing a physician for full-day periods. 

The reasoning is simple, you want to experience the day in a life of a physician as much as possible so you know it’s the right career choice for you. 

As I mentioned earlier, I shadowed an OB/Gyn doctor for an entire summer. When I shadowed him, I was there early and stayed until he left. I saw when he got in and rounded on women who were in labor, how an emergency c-section can cut lunch short, and how sometimes you just need to stay late to make sure you care for your patients.

Being a physician is not easy but it is certainly rewarding. You will see what I mean after shadowing from dawn till dusk. 

But again, we all have busy schedules and I understand that some students can’t shadow the entire day. Do what you can, any shadowing experience is better than none. 

Conclusion

Based on my research and my own experience, you should shadow a specific doctor for roughly 50 hours. Whether you do this over the period of a week or several months, that’s okay as long as you put in the time to get ample exposure to the field. 

After you shadow one doctor, shadow another. If you are shadowing physicians in a period of a week, which most premed students seem to do, you can shadow plenty of different specialties over one summer.

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