How To Shadow A Doctor

Updated on 21/05/2024 in
How to Shadow a Doctor

If you aren’t sure about which field to specialise in, shadowing a doctor and gaining first-hand experience with patients will help you a lot. This is probably the best way to make the right choice. You will be able to see for yourself what you prefer and gain skills and knowledge at the same time.

Why should you shadow a doctor?

By shadowing a doctor you get a clear understanding of what you want to study even before your pre-academic years. You can even do it while you are still in high school. Moreover, it is a good extracurricular activity, and some admission offices do consider them as an advantage for their applicants. While shadowing a doctor is not an official entry requirement for medicine in Europe, it sure shows character and resolve.

Besides just getting an understanding of what you want to study, you gain knowledge and experience that you normally wouldn’t get before the 4th year of studying at a university. You will learn directly from the physician about how they communicate with their patients and how they make accurate diagnoses. 

Most of the time, you’ll probably just follow the doctor, like a shadow. So you might ask, what is the point of that? By observing the doctor’s activities, you can get a unique insight into their daily activities and responsibilities.

After practising with them for some time, you can ask them for a letter of recommendation to get into your desired medical school easier.

What is it like shadowing a doctor?

Shadowing is much easier than having an internship or volunteer work, as you will mainly silently observe the physician’s actions. This means that you will get a glimpse of their professional workdays - what appointments they have, how they treat patients, do paperwork, review files, and more.

During the appointments, the doctor will introduce you to the patients and explain that you are shadowing them. Most patients will be okay with it, but you will have to leave the room sometimes to maintain the patient’s privacy.

If the patient expresses their consent, then you are free to observe the examination. The physicians often use these opportunities to ask you questions and teach you about various medical procedures.

You might not have to do much during these appointments, but you can be an active listener and learner. Take a notebook with you and write down everything that the doctor does. During breaks, you will be able to discuss the physician’s actions in depth. The notes will also help you decide whether you’d like to specialise in the same field (e.g. cardiology) as the physician you’ve been shadowing.

How to find a doctor to shadow?

Finding opportunities to shadow a doctor may be difficult. However, if you have built a relationship with any doctors, start by asking them first. For example, you might have met them only once during one of your regular health checkups, or they might be lecturers at your university. Ask them if they would be willing to mentor you.

Try asking your professors or the student advisors at your university if they know someone willing to teach you. Continue searching and you will find great shadowing opportunities

Sidenote: You need to find someone who’ll help you gain experience in a clinical setting. You must see how a physician interacts with their patients.

How to approach a doctor?

Firstly, you should always introduce yourself. And don’t forget to tell the physician why you want to shadow them. For example, tell them that you are a student majoring in medicine. Share with them your reasons for studying medicine, what education you already have, and where you study right now.

After you’ve introduced yourself, ask them if it would be okay to shadow them. 

If the doctor turns you down, ask another one. There are many physicians who welcome the opportunity to work with pre-med students.

Have an internship. 

Shadowing a doctor and having a healthcare internship are essentially almost the same practices. The difference is the amount of commitment you want to make. If you are still figuring out your career path or you don’t have much free time, then shadowing a medical physician is perfect for you. However, if you already decided on what you want to study, then you should consider having an internship. Healthcare internships allow you to gain extensive experience throughout the year as well as earn some money.

For how long should you shadow a doctor?

Usually, you can do it from 2 to 8 hours per day, depending on their availability and schedule. You can practice with them once or arrange the practice for multiple days that may stretch out for weeks, or even months. Of course, you won’t be seeing them every day of the month, but often the doctors will work with you at least once a week.

Ask questions

Asking questions whenever you don’t understand something will give you a lot of new insight and show that you are listening to the physician. 

Another point of shadowing a doctor is that you build a relationship with them. They can act as your friend or mentor and give you some career advice. 

Here are some questions you can ask the medical physician:

  1. What was your career path to becoming a doctor?
  2. What are the things that you like about being a doctor?
  3. What do you not like about your profession?
  4. Do you have any tips or strategies to make engaging with the patient easier?
  5. Do you have any advice for me on what skills I need to improve?
  6. Do you have other advice?

Dress professionally

The first impression that others will have of you depends on your appearance.

Show that you are serious about shadowing a doctor by dressing professionally. Even if you change into surgical scrubs afterwards, you should still show up wearing a business casual dress code. Business casual dress code will help you project a professional, business-like image while wearing casual and relaxed clothing.

Appropriate business casual attire for men is shirts, pullovers, dress slacks, dark socks, and dress shoes. For women, it’s appropriate to wear shirts, short-sleeved tops, skirts, dress slacks, and open-toe or closed-toe shoes.

What can you do after shadowing a doctor?

After you’ve finished practising under the mentorship of a medical physician, you should always thank them for the opportunity. After all, you would have gained a lot of knowledge and experience thanks to them. 

You should ask them to give you a recommendation letter. With a recommendation letter, you will be able to show that you’ve built a positive relationship with a physician, as well as have some clinical experience with various medical institutions. 

Having a recommendation letter as a pre-med student will always help you get into your desired university, and it will look good on your CV in the future.


Having experience from shadowing a doctor will give you a clear perspective of what specialisation you want to major in, as well as get some knowledge and experience. Such practice helped many students determine their career paths and show their ambition to universities and employees.

Article written by Dr Sam El Mais
Dr Sam El Mais, MD, MSc, BSc, graduated from a renowned medical school in Romania in 2019. He uses his professional knowledge and personal experience to guide students on crucial aspects such as university selection, admissions processes, and cultural adjustments.
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