Setting up your first shadowing gig can be a difficult task. Especially when you don’t actually know anybody in medicine. In this day and age, physicians are most of the time too busy to answer a phone call. Sometimes in order to reach a doctor you want to shadow, it is necessary to send an email. But how exactly do you write an email asking to shadow a doctor?
Why it is Important to Shadow a Physician
First, let’s go over why shadowing a doctor is important. If you are already researching how to reach out to doctors you want to shadow, chances are you got an idea of the importance of shadowing.
Not all Medical Schools will put requirements for shadowing on their application, but all medical schools expect you to have some sort of shadowing experience.
The reasoning is simple, Medical Schools don’t want you to go to Medical School without knowing what to expect from a career in medicine.
Shadowing gives important insight into what a physician does on an ordinary day. Yes, there are a lot of pros of becoming a doctor, but it is important to understand the cons as well. This is why we wrote a complete guide on everything a premed student needs to know about shadowing.
With realistic expectations of a career as a doctor, your decision about going to medical school can be further solidified.
Get an Idea of What Field of Medicine You Want to go Into
You don’t need to know exactly what field you want to practice in Medicine before getting into medical school. But it is helpful to get an idea, especially before you start shadowing.
Before you start emailing physicians you want to shadow, think about who might be the most beneficial to shadow based on your interests. If you think that you would enjoy becoming an Emergency Room doctor, surgeon, or OB/Gyn, reach out to physicians in those fields in particular.
There are so many different fields of medicine out there. You won’t have the chance to shadow all of them. Therefore, having that idea of where you want to be can help limit your options. Gain that clinical experience in the fields you are most interested in first in order to confirm or deny that you would enjoy moving in that direction.
It is true that in medical school you will have rotations that tend to guide future doctors into their respective fields. A lot of people will tell you not to even worry about what you want to do until you are in medical school. I disagree. Knowing which fields of medicine you are more drawn to can give you an idea of what medical school you want to go to, how much work you will need to do, and what clubs you might join and network in.
Apart from the benefits of discernment, you will find that it is easier to write an email to a physician if you can include that you are interested in their particular field! Like most human beings, physicians like to talk about themselves. They are more inclined to respond to you if you show interest in what they practice.
Finding Doctors to Shadow (And Their Emails)
Now that you have thought about what kinds of doctors you want to reach out to, it is time to find some physicians to shadow and their emails. (I wrote a post on tips for finding a doctor to shadow with more strategies)
The number one strategy I recommend is going with someone you know. This could be a relative, family friend, teacher, or family doctor. You are always more likely to get a positive response from someone you know.
If you need to branch out outside of people you know, then you can’t go wrong with a cold email. I’ve done it before and it works.
First, find a physician online. The simplest way is to google the medical specialty you are interested in shadowing followed by “near me.”
Plenty of emails can be found online. Whether that is a physician directory of a hospital or a doctor’s personal website. If you contact them through a generic contact page, make sure you put ATTN: “Doctor’s Name.”
How to Ask to Shadow a Doctor With an Email
When writing an email to a doctor that you want to shadow, make sure you consider the following:
Make Every Email Personal. Do not put together a large list and send them all the same email. You want to make sure they know you aren’t spamming a bunch of people. I recommend sending one email at a time starting with your top choices. Wait for a response, if they don’t respond in a few days, move on to the next one.
Work Around Their Schedule. This is very important. I know as a pre-med student this can be very difficult. Your schedule is very busy and you want to fit everything in perfectly. Just know that a doctor’s schedule is always going to be much busier. Be courteous and make sure whomever you are reaching out to understands that you are flexible and can go in whenever it is convenient for them.
Include your goals. Earlier in this post, I mentioned that it was helpful to have an idea of which field of medicine you want to go into. Include that you want to shadow this particular physician because you are interested in his/her field. Doctors are usually happy to discuss their specific specialty with other people, so including your interest in their field will make them more inclined to let you shadow.
Include all the information you need but keep it brief. Doctors are busy people who get lots of emails a day. You want to include all the important information but you also want to keep it as brief as possible. Don’t add any fluff like stories, superfluous information, or information you researched about his/her practice.
Basic Outline for Your Email to Shadow a Physician
Here is the basic outline you can use when sending an email to a doctor:
Subject Line: (If sending to a generic email) ATTN: Dr. _______ RE: Shadowing Opportunity – Premedical Student.
Or, if it’s not a generic email, simply put: Shadowing Opportunity – Premedical Student.
- Introduce yourself:
- Name, school, and major.
- Where you got the email address from.
- Online, from a friend, from school, etc.
- Your request to Shadow him/her
- Include how many hours/days you would like to shadow. After you start shadowing and things go well, you can always request more days!
- Your interest in their field of medicine.
- If they can accommodate you, when would it be convenient for them?
Email Template For Shadowing a Physician You Know
Now that you got the structure of how your email should look like, here is a sample of what I would write to a physician I know. For the sake of the sample, I will pretend I’m searching for an Orthopedic Surgeon.
Dear Doctor X,
This is John Doe, I am currently a junior at the University of Y majoring in Biology. Would it be possible to shadow you at your practice sometime in the next few months? If possible, I would like to shadow for a total of 40 hours. I am very interested in Orthopedic Surgery as a career and I would like the opportunity to learn more about it.
If you are willing, please let me know when is a convenient date and time for you.
I skipped the part of including where I got the email from. I was assuming this is someone I know and wouldn’t be surprised that I have there email. If it was a fringe relative or distant family friend, I would probably include who gave me their email.
Sample Email to Shadow a Physician You Don’t Know (Cold Email)
Dear Doctor X,
My name is John Doe and I am currently a premedical student at the University of Y majoring in Biology. I found your email online while researching Orthopedic Surgeons in the area.
Would it be possible to shadow you at your practice sometime in the next few months? If possible, I would like to shadow for a total of 40 hours. I am very interested in Orthopedic Surgery and I would like the opportunity to learn more about it.
If you are willing, please let me know when is a convenient date and time for you.
If the Answer is Yes
If the doctor you emailed replies saying yes, make sure you respond promptly. They will most likely let you know what days work out for them. Commit to a couple of days and ask what time you should meet him/her.
Don’t inundate them with questions. I know you want to ask things like where you should meet, what the parking situation is, and if you should wear scrubs or not. But don’t forget, doctors are busy people. These are answers you can get from someone else. I recommend calling the doctor’s office the next day and asking the front desk these questions.
If the Answer is No
To be honest, I never received a “No.”
Usually, doctors are very helpful and enjoy mentoring students. Either that, or they don’t reply to the email because they are too busy.
But nonetheless, there could be legit reasons for a physician to say no! For instance, maybe the hospital has a rule against allowing undergrad students to shadow.
If the physician you sent the cold email too replies “No”, be professional and understanding. Actually reply to the email saying that you appreciate the reply back and understand. I have said it before but I’ll say it again: Any interaction you have with medical personnel should be professional. You never know who is friends with the admissions team at a medical school you applied to.
If You Don’t Get a Response
Don’t take it personally. As I said, physicians are busy people. Chances are they didn’t see it. If you are adamant about shadowing this particular doctor, you should call them. You could send another email in a week but chances are the same thing will happen.
What if a Doctor Responds Yes but After You Have Accepted Another Shadowing Opportunity
One of the reasons why I recommend sending one personalized email at a time is in order to avoid this situation. But you still might end up getting a reply later down the road.
First, try to do both shadowing gigs. The more shadowing the better.
But if that is not possible, you should still write back. Explain that you appreciate that they were willing to let you shadow them but you were able to find another physician to shadow and you don’t have the time to do anymore. Don’t worry, they won’t take it personally. They probably feel bad for getting back to you so late.
I hope this guide to emailing a physician you want to shadow helps. It’s totally normal to have to send out cold emails like this. Lots of premeds don’t have any doctors they know and have to resort to methods like this.
Just remember, shadowing is incredibly important. Putting yourself out there and reaching out to other physicians will not only give you this invaluable and fun experience, but it will also force you to network.
Like any career, people that network in medicine receive more job offers in the future. You are never too young to start. Building those relationships in college will only help you in the long run.
Have any questions? Please respond in the comments! I try to reply to every single comment.