etiquette for shadowing and/or interviews

Dear fellow pre-meds:
Does anyone have advice on etiquette for shadowing and/or interviews? I am in my first year of premed coursework, and am exploring my possibilities for a career transition to medicine. As part of this exploratory process, I have scheduled several sit-down meetings and 1-day shadowing experiences with doctors whose practices and research parallel some of my own interests (e.g. PM&R). I need to make the most of these meetings, since some of the doctors are on faculty at schools that I am interested in, and/or may be able to write LORs in the future. I’d appreciate feedback on any of the following questions:
· Should I send my CV in advance, or is a more general letter of introduction enough (I don’t want to look like I’m angling for a job or anything)?
· In shadowing, when there are patients or other doctors present, how will I know when it is OK to ask questions and when to keep my mouth shut (don’t want to be a nuisance)?
· Are they any topics I should avoid (e.g. HIPPA)?
· Should I offer to pay for lunch?
· What should I wear (e.g. scrubs vs. business attire)?
· What form should my “thank you” take (e.g. note on personal stationary, business letter, small gift, etc.)
Any other tips from wizened veterans of such induction rituals would be sincerely appreciated!
RMG, Dr. 2B

Hi there,
You can contact your local medical society in your locale for a list of physicians who are willing to have pre-med students shadow. Once you have this list, you may call and set up a time that works for you both.
At the time that you set up your shadowing experience, your physician mentor will lay out the ground rules. What you wear will depend on the type of physician that you shadow and his or her practice for that day.
Most of the guys that invite pre-med students that I know are surgeons. They allow the student to observe in the OR. You can wear comfortable casual clothing (shirt, tie, blouse, nice pants, comfortable, flat shoes) which you change out of and into scrubs. You will be told where to stand/sit by the scrub nurse so that you can get the best view of what is going on. You may also see patients in the clinic so you want to look fairly professional but no heavy make-up or noisy high heels.
You cannot mention anything about any patient that you see with your mentor. Most mentors will not discuss patient care matters with student observers. Most of the time, you will discuss your career plans. You may bring a CV with you and be sure to bring a personal statement detailing why you want to pursue a career in medicine. (It is always a good idea to get your personal statement written ahead of time anyway).
Be sure to make a good enough impression to ask for a letter of recommendation. After you have left, be sure to write a detailed thank-you letter and let your physician mentor know how the experience has affected your career plans positively or negatively.
If you have an interest in surgery, you don’t have to shadow a surgeon (who is very likely to be break-neck busy anyway), you can get a great shadowing experience with a pathologist or internist who is interested in mentoring you.
Good luck and enjoy your experience.

Thank you for your exceedingly informative post. This is exactly the kind of practical advice I need. Where you find the time/energy to pursue your residency and still remain one of the most prolific posters to this list I will never know! I thank you for your kind advice regarding my own situation, and in a more general sense for your many contributions to the message archives (by which I have also benefited indirectly). You are indeed an inspiration!
RMG, Dr. 2B

I did almost all my shadowing with MDs in their offices:
I wore business casual (no suits, but nice pants, blouse, shoes; in other words, what the doctors were wearing). No big jewellery, no perfume, no big nails, everything conservative.
None of them gave me ground rules (except one DO who said I would not be allowed to work on the patients, which I hadn’t expected to do anyway).
* I followed the doctor’s clues about how much to talk/ask questions, by noticing how much they said to me in front of the patient.
* I sent a handwritten thank you letter on nice stationery after each visit.
* You should be sensitive to possibly leaving the room during genital exams on adults of the opposite sex; ask the doctor if you aren’t sure.
* Lunch was often provided by drug company reps etc., so that was never an issue. We never went out for lunch.
* Take a water bottle and snacks in case you end up going non-stop all day with no lunch.
* If you are shadowing a family practice doc who does OB, be prepared to possibly go to the hospital with him/her to observe a delivery. On these days, I keep in my car a pair of flat-heeled shoes and make sure I have clothes that will work under scrubs. Also, make sure you have enough gas in the car that if you drive to the hospital, you will not run out of gas!
Finding out as much as possible about the doctor in advance is helpful too.

I know you’d mentioned that shadowing a surgeon would be difficult, but I have an interest in neurosurgery, and I really would love to get a feel for the field. Would a neurologist be an ideal alternative, or should I stick with a surgeon in a less demanding specialty?


I know you’d mentioned that shadowing a surgeon would be difficult, but I have an interest in neurosurgery, and I really would love to get a feel for the field. Would a neurologist be an ideal alternative, or should I stick with a surgeon in a less demanding specialty?

Hi there,
I said that you do not HAVE to shadow a surgeon if you are interested in surgery. The type of physician that you shadow is pretty meaningless at your level because you can’t get much a feel for any specialty without looking at it throught the lens of having experienced third year of medical school. As I have said in many posts, I did not enter medical school with the idea of being a surgeon. I had an interest in adolescent medicine and generally enjoyed working with adolescents. This lasted up until I scrubbed in on my first case in surgery. I was hooked from then on. It was very hard to imagine doing any other kind of medicine. Standing in the OR observing will not give you a true surgical experience. You have to get in there and get your hands working. You also have to treat some surgical patients.
If you find a neurosurgeon who is willing to let you shadow, go for it but a good experience with a family practictioner who is interested in your career development is worth far more to you at this point.
Good luck!

Thanks for the advice Natalie. Actually my current main interest is Rads, but like you said-until I’m actually doing it…
I just hope I can actually get someone to LET me shadow