Shadowing is a great way for students to explore health careers and to learn more about career paths of interest. Though shadowing is more passive than other activities, it allows students to get a glimpse into what a particular healthcare professional does, while also learning about what it is like to actually be a healthcare professional.

To get the most out of your shadowing experience, you can try a few different things:

  • Aim to align your schedule with that of the professional you are shadowing. For example, if “Dr. Jones” mentions that they wake up at 4:30am to arrive to the hospital by 6am for 6:30am rounds, try to wake up at 4:30am for your day of shadowing! We know, it does not sound appealing for most, but think about it – are you willing to pursue a career in which you’ll have very early mornings? What if “Dr. Williams” works back-to-back 12-hour ICU shifts? Is that the kind of lifestyle you envision for yourself? Not all health careers have similar work schedules and lifestyles – one of the best ways to learn about careers and lifestyles is to shadow!
  • Bring a notebook! The act of shadowing may be passive, but once your healthcare professional is done seeing patients for the day, ask them some questions. If you were curious about a treatment or lab value, write it down in your notebook. It is best to ask your questions during some downtime, so writing them down will prevent you from forgetting, especially when there will likely be an overflow of new information you’re learning throughout the day.
  • Prior to your shadowing experience, ask the healthcare professional about what cases they commonly see or what procedures they’ll be doing for the day. Do some research to prepare for what you may see! This is beneficial for a few reasons: (1) you may understand some of what you’ll be learning about, (2) it may help you ask relevant questions, (3) it will show the healthcare professional that you truly value your shadowing experience, and you are driven to learn.

Virtual Shadowing

Hopefully, if you’re scrolling through the Medi-Futures website, you’re familiar with virtual shadowing. If not, it’s a good thing you’re here! There are various virtual shadowing programs that exist, and each program may impact students differently.

Medi-Futures virtual shadowing allows students the flexibility to shadow when it is convenient for them, while providing an explorative experience for students to learn about a wide breath of health careers and specialties. The variety of professionals featured allows students to develop an appreciation for interprofessional collaboration and the members of a healthcare team.

Students should use their virtual shadowing experience to learn about a variety of careers, including lesser-known health career paths, determine which health careers, if any, interest them, and then develop connections with healthcare professionals in the areas of interest.

Virtual shadowing should be a bridge for students to gain in-person opportunities! Upon program completion, students may have more well-defined interests and career goals.

Some benefits of virtual shadowing, compared to in-person shadowing, include:

  • no need for prior connections to healthcare professionals
  • no need for transportation or a particular wardrobe
  • flexibility to shadow when at times and locations of convenience (in-person shadowing is usually a full-day experience)

When including Medi-Futures virtual shadowing hours on health professional school applications, students should specify the number of hours earned and mention hours were earned virtually. Most applications provide students with a space to elaborate on the experience, so students are encouraged to explain how this experience impacted them and briefly discuss a particular speaker or patient case. A gained appreciation for interprofessional collaboration and broad exposure to health careers are two main points students might choose to include as well.

If you are interested in virtual shadowing with Medi-Futures, learn more here.

In-Person Shadowing

Shadowing healthcare professionals in-person, in the setting(s) in which they typically work, is a great way to further explore career paths of interest. In-person shadowing usually requires students to complete a variety of steps prior to actually stepping foot in a hospital or clinic; these steps may include HIPAA training, security and confidentiality statements, determining shadowing schedules, or more.

Every in-person shadowing experience will be unique! Your experience will differ based on the institution in which you are shadowing (i.e. academic hospital, community practice, private practice, free clinic) and the healthcare professional you are shadowing. You may shadowing from 8am to 5pm for a 1-month period, or you may shadowing from 7am to 7pm for only 1 day.

How do you find in-person shadowing opportunities? Lot’s of research! If you are local to a hospital or clinic, visit their website to find a provider or faculty directory. Find a few healthcare professionals you may have an interest in shadowing, and reach out to them (either directly, or via office staff). Email is used most commonly for shadowing requests; however, not all healthcare professionals have public email addresses. If you are unable to find an email address for someone you would like to shadow, try to find a phone number for reaching office staff. Consider contacting private clinics or community offices for shadowing.

How do you ask a healthcare professional to shadow them? Email is often the best option. Before you send an email to someone you’d like to shadow, search through their website (if they have one) to see if they have a page with shadowing information. If they do, complete any steps listed on that page prior to emailing for shadowing – this will show that you’ve done your research, and it should expedite the process! When you’re ready to send an email, keep it short and concise. Your email should be about 3 sentences in length and should briefly mention why you are interested in shadowing that particular person (are you interested in their research, are you fascinated by a specific illness or treatment, etc.). If you don’t receive a response back within one to two weeks, don’t assume they are not accepting shadowing students (they may have scrolled by your email without noticing); instead, send a short follow-up email and let them know you look forward to hearing back at their convenience.

The University of Florida College of Medicine Department of Neurology involvement website, created by the Medi-Futures Faculty Director, has more information about shadowing and observership.