what to do when shadowing a doctor

What to Do When Shadowing a Doctor: Tips and Tricks for Pre Med Students

What to do when shadowing a doctor can be tough if you’re not sure what to do. As a pre med student, you should get involved in different ways outside of the exam room- but what about inside? What should you say? How much time will I spend with the patient if they are being seen for something simple like an ear infection? Read on for some tips and tricks that will make your next shadowing experience more successful!

How to have a good Shadowing Experience

Having a good shadowing experience is what makes or breaks the future of a pre med student. Luckily, there are some tips and tricks that can make your next shadowing experience fantastic!

  • – Introduce yourself to the patient as soon as possible. Ask if it’s okay for you to stick around in case they need anything else during their visit with the doctor.
  • – Get involved in what’s going on outside of the room, not just what’s happening inside. Ask questions to the doctor about what they were doing and why it was important. This way you can get more comfortable with what your future occupation will be like!
  • – Don’t be afraid to ask what kind of time you’re going to be spending with the patient. If they are being seen for something simple like an ear infection, their visit should only take about 15 minutes- but what happens if it takes a little longer?
  • – Shadowing is all about getting comfortable and familiarizing yourself with what’s going on in the medical field. Keep asking questions!

It can be a tough balance to know how many questions you should be asking and what else you should be doing during your shadowing experience.

The secret is to be interested and be engaged, and you can’t go wrong if you focus on those two things.

Also, remember this is a required thing for you to get into medical school, so make sure you do it, and you are respectful!

what to do when shadowing a doctor

Why Medical Schools want you to Shadow

It is required that prospective medical students do physician shadowing because it allows them to see what the medical profession is like from the perspective of a practicing physician, prior to attending medical school.

Embarking on a medical career as a physician is no small task, and medical school admissions committees like to see that you have had ample shadowing opportunities so that you understand what you are getting into.

5 Things to do when you begin shadowing

There are five things you want to make sure you do when you shadow a doctor. These are be respectful, ensure you show up 15 min early, don’t cut the doctor off in patient conversations, dress professionally, and be engaged during the time you spend with them


Be respectful is number one because it is so important! This is what you want to do for the rest of your career as a physician, so what better thing to start with!


The second thing is showing up 15 minutes early- this will allow you to meet everyone and talk with the doctor for a few minutes before you get started. It is also important that you are early so you don’t make the doctor late!


It’s also important that you don’t interrupt patient conversations because it takes away time from what they are there for. Interrupting a physician and patient during patient care is just really bad form, so while in the patient room with the doctor, don’t speak unless invited to is the best rule.


Dressing professionally is what’s next on the list because what you wear matters and will reflect positively or negatively on you after your shadowing experience, which can affect what happens with medical school admissions later down the line! You will need a letter of recommendation from one of the physicians that you shadow, so looking professional is just as important as acting professional!


The last thing to do when you shadow is to be engaged. When the doctor performs a procedure ask what they are doing and why it matters, or what information they need from you during patient care. Be interested in what’s going on so that your future profession will feel like less of an unfamiliar territory!

Being interested in what is going on and being engaged shows that the time the physician is taking to allow you to be there is not wasted. It confirms your interest in the profession, and makes it so that if you want to come back you are welcome to, and also it will make a huge difference when you ask for a letter of recommendation!

Do those five things each time you do any kind of medical shadowing and you will benefit a ton form that when ti comes time for your medical school applications.

what to do when shadowing a doctor

5 Things not to do when you begin shadowing

There are some key things you should avoid doing when you start shadowing, and truthfully all of them are pretty obvious. These are don’t flirt with medical office staff, don’t be arrogant, don’t act like you are the doctor, please don’t show up late, and don’t have expectations from the physician. These are pretty straight forward, but lets dive into more detail about each one.

This is what makes the difference between what you do and what not to do.


Don’t flirt with medical office staff- this is a huge no! Not only can it lead to discrimination in the workplace, but there are also lawsuits that have been filed for sexual harassment if someone were to find out what was going on while you were shadowing. Flirting with the office staff while actively shadowing a physician is a quick way to never be let back to shadow again.


Don’t be arrogant, what this does is show what you are like and what kind of person that will be for the next decades. Being arrogant, or over confident often leads to premed students not getting a good letter of recommendation and honestly can lead to med schools finding out about it when you apply if you really over did it. It also doesn’t make for good bedside manner, and it doesn’t make for a good physician.


Don’t act like you are the doctor- this is pretty obvious right?! Do exactly what a shadow does, it is just there. Don’t let patients think you are a doctor of even a medical student, because these roles are so different then the role of a premed student when shadowing. Let them know you are premed and that you are there to do some medical shadowing and get a feel for what the medical career you are going for is like.


Don’t show up late. Being punctual was mentioned in the things TO DO, but it is being mentioned here again because it is so important! You need to go to what you are shadowing on time, or even if it is a little early. This shows that you respect what they do and have an interest in what they are doing.

Being late often crops up as one of the reasons why people don’t get let back for more shadowing because being tardy so many times just isn’t what a physician needs in their work day.


The last thing to do is not have expectations from the physician, because this can lead to disappointment and then leaving you feeling like what you did was useless or pointless. This is what happens when someone has high expectations about something they are doing that will only end up letting them down for having those feelings.

Going in with no expectations, or what you will call “neutral” is better. You will be able to see what the physician does and what they are like without any prejudice from what you think it might be beforehand.

Just go into your shadowing experience ready and willing to learn!

Make sure you avoid these five things at all costs and it will make your shadowing experience a lot better!

How many shadowing hours do you need

This is a tough question because every school is different, but what you need to know is what they require.

Some schools have a minimum of ten hours and some even say that it needs to be at least thirty or forty, but what most will ask for may vary depending on if there are other medical students shadowing as well and what their specific requirements are.

Most students should plan on having around 40 hours minimum in direct shadowing hours. This can be in whatever medical specialties you want it to be in. A lot of times it is easiest to get that many hours in a family medicine or internal medicine setting.

Most medical students end up having around 100 hours of shadowing time. So, treat 40 hours as the minimum, but more is always better.

Should you Shadow the Same Physician over and over

You absolutely can shadow the same physician over and over. The tricky thing is that you will need multiple letters of recommendation from your physician shadowing experiences, and if you only shadowed one doctor then you can only get one letter.

Make sure you shadow at least 2-3 different doctors in a few different medical specialties. This will make it easier to get a letter of recommendation from them.

I would highly recommend you shadow both an internal medicine doctor and a family medicine doctor. These docs are more abundant and easier to access as there is less time in the hospital, and less legal paperwork to sign because of it.

When thinking about how many shadowing hours you need total, shoot for a minimum of 40 hours with a goal to be close to 100 hours when you apply for medical school.

What to ask when shadowing a doctor

There really isn’t a set standard of what to ask when shadowing a doctor. Make sure you are engaged and being active in what is happening at the moment with the patient.

Then ask questions you want to know the answer to.

What is their schedule like? How do they like their job? Was medical school tough? How about residency, what was that like?

Asking these questions will help with what you want to know about the field of medicine.

Beyond shadowing just being a requirement, it can really be beneficial for you to learn what being a doctor is like and to make sure it is what you want to do.

What to wear when shadowing a doctor

Make sure you wear professional attire. This can be a shirt and tie for men or skirt and nice shirt for women or what most people call “business casual.”

It is important to look professional and that you are the same as what a physician would be wearing.

Shirts should not have any logos on them, like Nike or anything else. It will make it seem too casual for what you need to do when shadowing a doctor. Wear clothes that are professional looking and what you expect a doctor to wear when you are in their clinic.


Being on time, being respectful and looking the part are all important when shadowing a doctor. But there’s more to it than that. You need to be engaged in what you’re doing as well as professional about your appearance. Think about this before applying for med school or if you find yourself with an opportunity to shadow a physician soon! What do you think is the most important thing we should have mentioned? Let us know in the comments below.

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