Shadowing a provider can be a very rewarding experience. Watching television shows and movies about healthcare workers is nice and all but this is far from getting the real experience of being a medical provider. Shadowing is the closest chance you will have. This is the perfect, one-on-one opportunity to get insight on what a health care provider actually does. The more you experience and interact with the medical community,
the more confident you will become that this is or is not what you want to do for a living.
1. FIND A PROVIDER: You have to start somewhere and the sooner the better. You are never too young to begin shadowing. In fact, many children of physicians spend plenty of time observing their parent(s) in action. Don’t allow the search for a provider to become an intimidating task that you keep putting off. I get messages from premeds all the time asking how they can link up with a provider. Well, this may be easier than you think. You may consider asking your own primary care provider if he or she is willing to let you shadow or if they know someone in a particular field you are interested in. Many health care providers welcome shadowing students and like the opportunity to teach. You may also consider checking with your school’s premedical advisory body to see if they have a list of providers in the area. Maybe speak with the school nurse/physician or athletic trainer. Being that you are affiliated with the school the process may be easier. Just realize that there may be some red tape you may proactively need to address such as hospital/practice rules and access as well as HIPAA protocols.
2. KNOW WHAT YOUR PROVIDER DOES: You want to avoid blindly walking into a clinic and calling an Ophthalmologist and Optometrist (or vice versa). Most providers will not expect you to know a lot about medicine but they probably would expect you to have a basic understanding of the type of patients they see and what they do. Get an idea of what it is your provider does and the type of training it required.
3. ASK BEFORE YOU GET THERE: Before the shadowing day, make sure you have asked key questions including: Where is the clinic or hospital located? What time and place can I meet you at? You may also want to ask about dress attire and medical equipment they suggest you bring. You do not want to assume things only to become a liability to the provider. Try to get there at least 15 minutes early. Doctors are notorious for getting places either early or late due to their erratic schedules.
4. DRESS THE PART: It is probably best to simply ask what to wear ahead of time. If you are working with a clinician then you most likely will need to dress professionally. Do not show up in a t-shirt, jeans, short dress or shorts, tennis shoes or stilettos. You can imagine this would be very distracting and embarrassing for the provider as he or she wants to present a respectable appearing student to their patient. If you are going to watch a surgical procedure they may prefer you wear scrubs. You can easily purchase these at a medical supply store.
5. SHHHH… SHADOWING MEANS SHADOWING: By all means, please do not overstep boundaries. A shadow follows someone quietly. It is not a good idea to go see a patient without the provider asking you to do so. Do not leave for lunch or for the day without letting someone (hopefully the provider) know. As a shadow, follow your provider and try not to speak out of turn when they are seeing a patient. Unless your provider encourages you to do so, do not begin asking questions or bringing up a similar case you recently watched on Grey’s Anatomy or House. You may consider asking the provider burning questions once they ask if you have any questions or once you step outside of the room. Questions are welcomed by nearly all providers but try hard to respect your provider’s time. If they appear stressed while frantically typing a note that may not be the best time to speak. As the day goes you will both feel more comfortable with one another and there may be more time for conversations. You may want to bring a small notepad and write a few questions and thoughts as the day progresses. There will probably be some words you do not understand so jot them down for later.
6. EAT BREAKFAST: More than likely you will have time to grab lunch but it is better to be safe than sorry. Make sure you are well rested and have eaten a good breakfast. Providers always have unpredictable schedules. You have to come in with the understanding that they may be called to the hospital for a consult, an add-on patient may extend their morning, or a procedure may take longer than anticipated. I recall an experience in the orthopedic operating room watching an infected prosthetic joint procedure extend out from 4 to 8 hours. Needless to say, I definitely was not as prepared as I should have been.
7. DO NOT OPEN ANY PERSONAL RECORDS: I’ll get straight to the point. This is illegal and can get you into a lot of trouble! Do not even open your own, a family member’s or a close friend’s chart. This is medical ethics 101 and would be a breach in confidentiality.
8. ADD THIS TO YOUR CV: As with every relevant extracurricular or volunteer activity, keep records of what you have done. Keep notes on the day(s), the provider and specialty, type of patients you encountered, and procedures you watched or performed. Do not document any patient personal information such as name or medical record number. The experience will definitely be memorable and brought up in the future. You want to have accurate information.
9. DO IT AGAIN: Every shadowing experience is different. You may have an enjoyable or horrible experience but do not simply make a judgment based on one visit. This is the great thing about medicine; there are so many specialties and personalities out there. You will never get bored investigating the different opportunities. Even within a specialty there are sub-specialties catering to providers with certain niches. You may shadow a general OB/Gyn provider and find that you are drawn to a fertility and reproduction case. At the end of your day you may want to ask your physician if they know a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist who may be willing to let you shadow.
10. KEEP IN TOUCH: Providers you have shadowed serve as great mentors. It is important to keep in touch. Most will invest in students who show passion for the field of medicine and those truly making strives to enter the field. The more you reach out the more a good mentor will support you. There is no better source for a letter of recommendation than someone you shadowed and kept in touch with.
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