Exposure to medical professions and experience in healthcare settings are important steps to take in your pre-health journey. While the Carver College of Medicine does not have specific requirements for shadowing or shadowing hours, demonstrated experience in and knowledge of healthcare are important. Shadowing is a good way to learn (or see) what a healthcare professional really does in a day and to determine if a healthcare career is right for you.
Identify shadowing opportunities
Think about the experiences and connections you have now. Do you know a healthcare provider through social or family connections? Is your current doctor, physical therapist or dentist open to allowing you to shadow? Do you work or volunteer in a hospital or clinic where you can ask? Student clubs often have information about shadowing. Pre-medical students can join Medicus. Pre-dental, Pre-PT and Pre-PA student can learn about several opportunities through the UI Pre-dental Club, UI Pre-PT Club and UI Pre-PA Club.
If you have never volunteered in healthcare before, here are some good places to start:
For underrepresented students in medicine or students interested in working with underserved populations, check out the UI MD Shadowing Program
Before you begin an in-person shadowing experience, check out online resources. Virtual shadowing programs and shadowing resource sites are a great way to familiarize yourself with the healthcare profession. Here are a few to get you started:
Asking healthcare professionals for shadow experiences
Keep in mind that healthcare professionals are bound by HIPAA (federal privacy laws) and other privacy and safety standards. Be prepared for a background check, and to show proof of immunizations and a negative TB test. Some healthcare settings may not allow shadowing at all due to safety or privacy, so be flexible.
Whether you ask in person, by phone or in an email, be specific about why you would like to shadow and what you hope to learn from the experience. If you do not know the person, mention how you got their name and why you are asking them. If you send an email, give the recipient a week to respond before sending a follow-up request.
How to shadow like a pro
Once you have a day and time secured, make sure you have done any pre-shadowing prep. Many hospitals and clinics require HIPAA training and verified vaccination proof before allowing students to shadow. Keep a checklist of what you need to do beforehand and give yourself enough time to complete everything. If you have any questions ahead of time, write those down so you do not forget to ask them. Be punctual and courteous.
On the day you shadow, dress professionally but comfortably. Check if there are any dress codes. If you are shadowing in the OR, be prepared to dress in (or change into) scrubs. If allowed, bring a notebook to jot down your thoughts or any follow-up questions. The healthcare professional that you are shadowing will likely give you information on what to expect and how they will ask patients for permission for you to observe. When you are in the presence of patients, keep your attention on the work of the healthcare professional and save questions for later. As you are observing, make note of what surprises you and what stands out. These notes can be valuable later for personal statements and interviews.
At the end of your shadowing experience, sit down and look at your notes and consolidate your thoughts. What was your big takeaway? What surprised you about the work that you observed? What didn’t? If you had to tell someone how the experiences shaped your desire to be a healthcare professional, what would you say? Write these thoughts down and keep them, along with details about who you observed, when, and for how long. This information will be helpful when you apply to your health profession program.
Most importantly, write a thank-you letter within a few days of finishing your shadowing experience. If you have shadowed with the same healthcare professional enough to warrant a letter of recommendation, make the request in a separate email.