Shadowing a Doctor – A Comprehensive Guide


As you explore your options for a career in medicine, an excellent opportunity to witness firsthand the complexities and rewards of patient care is shadowing a doctor. Shadowing involves observing a licensed physician as they go about their day, from patient consultations to medical procedures and paperwork. Moreover, by shadowing a doctor, you’ll gain insight into the medical field and build professional relationships with doctors and other healthcare professionals. 

In this guide, we’ll delve deeper into what shadowing a doctor is like, how to find a doctor to shadow, and how to make the most of your shadowing experience. So, join us and discover how shadowing can be an enriching experience in your journey toward a career in medicine.

What Does Shadowing a Doctor Mean

Shadowing a doctor is an educational experience in which you observe the doctor as they engage with their daily duties. It’s valuable because it gives you a better understanding of a typical day as a doctor and exposes you to medical practices and procedures they use to diagnose and treat patients. Shadowing is also crucial during medical school admissions because it uncovers the job’s benefits and drawbacks, solidifying your determination to pursue a medical career. 

What Is Shadowing a Doctor Like

Shadowing a doctor involves following the doctor’s footsteps as they go about their daily responsibilities. You’ll witness how they interact with patients, diagnose them, and perform medical procedures. Let us explore what you can expect during a shadowing experience in more detail. 

Observational role

Shadowing is a primarily passive experience, meaning your role is mainly to be a silent observer as the doctor goes through their day on the job, not only during patient visits and procedures but as they go through the not-so-exciting paperwork, file review, and breaks. This observer role allows you to see the complete picture of being a doctor and provides you with an in-depth understanding of the medical field.

During patient interaction, doctors will likely introduce you to their patients and ensure they consent to you being in the room. Although patients are typically fine with this, some may feel uncomfortable having you in the room, and you may be asked to step out of the room. So, it’s crucial to be understanding and respectful of their privacy. 

Day-to-day tasks

Although you’ll mostly be watching quietly as the doctor works, the doctor may occasionally invite you to participate more directly and assist them with taking notes and organizing patient files. Taking notes is an excellent opportunity to write interesting medical terms and questions you may have to discuss with the doctor during breaks or at the end of the day. Shadowing is a great learning experience; therefore, be proactive and showcase your eagerness to learn about the field. 

Patient interactions

One of the most essential advantages of shadowing is observing how doctors interact with patients, their bedside manner, and their communication style with patients and other healthcare professionals. 

As the doctor introduces you, the patient may ask where you’re going to school and what you’re studying. However, it’s of the utmost importance to keep all patient information private and be polite when interacting with them. You may also be asked to sign a HIPAA compliance document stating that you will refrain from disclosing any patient information that could lead to their identification. 

Finding a Doctor to Shadow

Finding a doctor to shadow can be an overwhelming and daunting experience. However, here are the steps you can take to find a doctor willing to allow you to shadow them. 

Finding a Doctor to Shadow

Research areas of interest

At this point in your journey toward a career in medicine, it’s normal not to have a clear direction regarding what specialty you want to pursue. Therefore, it’s crucial to explore different medical specialties to identify what areas of medicine interest you.

You can begin by reflecting on whether you’re interested in a medical or surgical specialty. You can shadow a doctor in medical specialties such as family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. Common surgical specialties include ophthalmology, otolaryngology, general surgery, and thoracic surgery. 

Moreover, you should research local hospitals, clinics, or private practices that are renowned for the specialties you are interested in. 

Locating opportunities

After narrowing down areas of interest, the next step is locating shadowing opportunities. Ideally, you can contact physicians in your family or circle. However, if you don’t know any, there are still many other ways to find one. You can ask your professors and premed or academic advisors if they know any doctors or students who have shadowed. You can also check if your school is affiliated with a medical school or hospital and contact them directly. Another option is to contact the volunteer offices of any local hospital. And lastly, you can try cold-calling primary care practices to ask if you can shadow one of their doctors. 

Reaching out

After locating shadowing opportunities, it’s time to contact doctors directly. Keep in mind that different doctors have different communication preferences. You can start by sending a polite and professional email. Make sure to express a genuine interest in medicine and a willingness to learn from them. We recommend waiting for a response before emailing the next doctor on your list. You can call them if you are still waiting for a response after a few days. 

Crafting Your Request

Writing a request to shadow a doctor may seem intimidating, but by following a general outline, you can include all the necessary information. Your shadowing request should include the following information: 

  • Your name;
  • The school you attend;
  • Why you’re interested in going to medical school;
  • Why do you want to shadow the doctor, and how did you come across their information;
  • What you hope to get out of the experience;
  • A direct request to shadow the doctor;
  • When you’re available to shadow;
  • Your contact information.

Make sure to be concise, write a professional-sounding email, and be respectful of the request.  

Making the Most of Your Shadowing Experience

Here are a few things to consider to get the most out of your shadowing experience and learn as much as possible about what it’s like to be a doctor.  


Shadowing is an excellent opportunity to make a good first impression on the doctor, other healthcare professionals, and patients. Remember that the first thing people notice as you approach is your attire. Therefore, it’s crucial to dress professionally. If the facility you’re shadowing doesn’t have a dress code, dress business casual, wear closed-toed shoes, and tie back long hair. 

Another critical component is punctuality, as tardiness doesn’t translate well in the medical field.  Moreover, it shows how committed and serious you are about the shadowing opportunity and speaks volumes about your professionalism and reputation. Keep in mind that how you present yourself and treat the staff and patients is extremely important. Be appreciative of the staff and other physicians and respect everyone you interact with. 

Learning objectives

A crucial component of making the most out of your shadowing experience is to set specific learning objectives you want to achieve, such as understanding medical procedures or improving communication skills. You can also learn more about how the doctor:

  • Organizes the day;
  • Stays current in the profession;
  • Allows time for the unexpected;
  • Integrates personal and professional life;
  • Addresses uncertainty.

You should also reflect on what you’ve learned from the shadowing experience and write about any that stood out to you. Reflecting on shadowing experiences can be beneficial when you write your personal statement for medical school. 


During your shadowing time, you’ll encounter many doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals and get the chance to build relationships with them. Networking is especially important if you’ve gained interest in a certain specialty, as your connections can help you set further shadowing opportunities. 

After finishing shadowing, make sure to write a thank-you email or card to the doctor to express your gratitude for their time. Maintaining a positive relationship with the physician and staff makes it easier to ask for a letter of recommendation. 


Shadowing is an essential experience because it helps solidify your decision to pursue a medical career, provides insight into the inner workings of healthcare settings, and provides networking opportunities with healthcare professionals. Moreover, shadowing is an excellent opportunity to develop communication skills and observe what bedside manner entails. 

So, stay ahead of medical school applications and pursue shadowing opportunities as soon as possible to further your knowledge of the field and determine your career goals. If you’re certain about pursuing a career in medicine, consider our Associate of Science in Health Sciences to get on the M.D. track directly from high school. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need any specific qualifications to shadow a doctor?

Typically, you don’t need any specific qualification to shadow a doctor. You may even shadow a doctor in high school. However, some doctors and institutions may have particular requirements for shadowing due to concerns about confidentiality and the spread of infectious diseases. 

Can I shadow a doctor if I’m not interested in pursuing a medical career?

The primary goal of shadowing is to give you a chance to determine whether a career in medicine is right for you. Therefore, even if you’re interested in pursuing a medical career, through shadowing, you may find that a specific area of medicine piques your interest and may want to pursue it later on. 

Can I shadow more than one doctor?

While it’s fine to shadow only one doctor, we recommend shadowing multiple doctors to gain exposure to a range of specialties. This way, you’ll observe how daily tasks and responsibilities vary between different doctors and specialties. 

How many hours a day should I shadow a doctor?

It varies. You can shadow a doctor during their entire shift, which is approximately 10 hours, or you can arrange shadowing hours from four to eight hours. Remember to discuss the hours you’ll shadow per day with the doctor and the institution beforehand. 

Is shadowing a doctor a paid opportunity?

No, shadowing a doctor isn’t a paid opportunity. It’s a passive activity that allows you to observe doctors during the workday and ask questions. 

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