Shadowing is one of the most important extracurriculars you can do early in your undergrad. Outside of being able to put shadowing experience in your application, you will be able to learn about medicine and talk about these experiences in your essays and interviews. Many pre-meds do not know what being a doctor is really about, so shadowing as early as you can will help you make career decisions. Shadowing is also a great opportunity to see all the different opportunities in health and medicine (ex. PT, OT, nursing, NP, PA, DO, public health, clinical research, clinical psych, hospital administration, etc). You can learn about all the different specialties and positions within medicine, and seeing all these different health professionals work together in the hospital system will also allow you to determine why medicine may be right for you.
The specific specialty and location that you choose to shadow can have a huge impact on your shadowing experience. For example, private practices and clinics have fewer administrative barriers to allow students to shadow. You may be able to observe more procedures without having to wait or fill out applications and paperwork. However, one downside is that these smaller spaces may not have existing programs available for students specifically to get more involved. They are built with only enough space for the physician and a few other staff, and you may feel out of place. Bigger clinics or hospitals, on the other hand, may already have medical students and residents present so there is already observation and teaching framework in place for pre-meds to take part in.
If you shadow in a hospital, you are able to choose from a wide range of specialties. Primary care specialties or specialties in internal medicine, pediatrics, neurology, radiology, endocrinology, etc will allow shadowing students to see most or all facets of the physician role, including taking patient histories, physical exams, and interpreting test results. On the other hand, specialties in surgery, ENT, urology, orthopaedics, OB-GYN, etc will often not allow students in the operating room (though this depends on the hospital) so the shadower might only be able to observe pre- or post-operative clinics in these types of specialties. While the physician is in surgery, shadowers may have to stay in a different room and are unable to ask questions and participate, which could get boring. It is quite a bit harder, as a pre-med, to get a complete idea of these types of specialties as they may not be allowed to observe all parts of the job.
Depending on the health care professional you plan on shadowing, a cover letter is a way to express an interest in participating in a shadow experience. Below is a sample cover letter:
Dear Dr. __________:
My name is Name, and I am currently a [year in school] at the University of Michigan. I am in the process of exploring careers in healthcare and I am very interested in the field of (e.g., dentistry, occupational therapy, pediatric oncology, etc.) __________. I am in the process of seeking out opportunities for shadowing and informational interviewing in order to better understand what it is like to be a __________. I found your e-mail through the __________ website (Or, alternatively, I was given your contact information by your colleague, __________). If you are willing and your hospital/clinic/office allows students to shadow, I would welcome an opportunity to observe you work. I would also value the opportunity to have a short conversation over coffee or tea (my treat!) to hear more about your experiences and to get your advice on how to prepare for a career in medicine.
I realize that you are busy and that your time is valuable. If you have any questions or concerns, you can reach me by e-mail or phone (###-###- ####).
Thank you for your help. Kind Regards,