Hello! New here...

Hello everyone,

I have been browsing this site for a while now and have finally decided to sign up.

Short and quick story: I made the decision about a year ago to pursue becoming a physician. When I was younger, I had no desire to enter the medical field, thinking that it would be too hard, too stressful, and that I wasn’t smart enough. However, in my early 20s I decided that I wanted to pursue becoming a firefighter, which led me to taking an EMT class. This is when I began to fall in love with medicine. Since then, I’ve worked on an ambulance for the last 4 years, doing emergency and non-emergency medical transportation on BLS, ALS, and CCT ambulances, and have been working as an ER Tech for the last 8 months at a level 2 trauma center. I am currently taking classes at my local community college in preparation to transfer to a nearby university to obtain my Bachelor of Science, though I’m still debating between two majors that I’d like to study.

I’m excited to be a part of this site, and I hope to learn a lot from you all! Thanks!



It sounds like you have a lot of great experience. The community here is very supportive and helpful, please feel free to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have. Good luck to you on your journey!

Hi Synchronous,

Thanks for the welcome! I do have a question and it is related to my experience working in the medical field. I’ve read on many others sites that schools expect (for good reason) many hours shadowing a physician so that we can have an idea of what being a physician is all about before committing to medical school. However, I’ve spoken to quite a few doctors at work and they’ve all said that, because of the experience I am getting there in the ER, shadowing a physician will be a waste of time, especially since I will have been there for 4-5 years by time I’m applying to medical school. They’ve said that, instead, I should just focus on 1) my grades, above all else, and 2) trying to get involved in one or two extracurricular activities, preferably non-medical.

Is there anyone here that would be willing to give their advice? I’ve spent my years in emergency medicine, and I love it, so I obviously want to go in to EM. What would admission committees be expecting from someone in my situation regarding numbers of hours spent shadowing physicians?

This is specific to some schools (can’t remember which ones I heard/read this on, but I want to say UW was one of them), but admissions may not necessarily look at your personal experience the same as shadowing. Their reasoning being that while you have your own personal experience in the ER in whatever role you have, you have not taken a direct look at what it’s like to be a physician in the ER. It seems kind of wishy-washy to me, but that’s the way at least a couple of places view it if I remember correctly. There’s at least one person in my class with 0 hours of shadow time…

Unfortunately, the answer to your question and most “general admissions” questions will be “it depends.” Every school is different in what they want out of their applicants. Big picture, you want to do what interests you (so you’ll get more our of it and be better at talking about it) while at the same time making yourself as broadly competitive as you can. I’m in no-way suggesting you become a box-checker of an applicant, but you also shouldn’t necessarily tie your own hands if you have the ability to do certain things.

Again for UW (nope, I didn’t get in there), they set a minimum shadow requirement of 40 hours. This is definitely not the case for all schools (some don’t require it, some prefer/require it but have no written “minimum”). My personal opinion is that the right “amount of time” for shadowing depends on what you get out of the experience. See the highs, the lows, the in betweens, and be able to write/discuss your experience and how it was meaningful. I personally had around 50 hours shadow time, only because it was interesting and I wanted to do more of it. I think there’s a point of minimal return for what the schools want you to get out of shadowing…

I wouldn’t close the door on gaining experience in other fields. I forget the statistic, but a high number of people who know what they want to do before school end up changing their minds when they find something more interesting to them. I think schools appreciate someone who knows what they want but who also keeps an open mind. I want(ed) to go EM, I did all my shadowing in EM, all of my mentors were EM, but my interviewers appreciated that I was also interested in learning more about stuff that I know nothing about.

Thanks for the reply, Kennymac.

Your comments make a lot of sense. I wasn’t planning on ruling out shadowing completely, but I was trying to decide just how much emphasis I should put on it. Like most people, I don’t have a whole lot of time on my hands, especially with work, school and a family, so I’m trying to be strategic with my time. I’ve considered shadowing physicians in IM, Cardiology, and ID because those seem very interesting to me as well.

My other main concern was about how MANY hours to spend shadowing. Other sites, like SDN, has people talking about 500 hours+ of shadowing experience. I know I won’t have time to dedicate 500+ hours but I could very easily do 100 or so. Seeing the number of hours people throw around was getting my a little concerned.

Another questions: it’s going to be roughly about 4-5 years until I am applying to medical school, depending on if my plans work out the way I hope. When should I start shadowing? Should it be in the last 2 years leading up to med school applications? I ask in regards to LOR, and being concerned about too much time passing between my shadowing time with a physician and when s/he would be writing a LOR (hopefully they will!)

500 hours is INSANE. That sounds more like they wanted to be a 3rd/4th year med student and learn actual medicine than just shadow. Shadowing does not equal “learning to be a doc.” It’s just to get an idea of what medicine is all about and what it’s like to be a doc. If you can’t figure out if it’s what you want to do or not in 500 hours, you might need to reassess things.

Like I said, I had about 50 hours that was spread out over 3 months or so, completed the winter before I applied. It was as much of a “oh shoot, I need some shadow time” as it was out of interest to actually shadow. My goal really was to hit the 40 hour threshold required by UW. I think shadowing now would be good to either serve as a motivator for you, or to show you that you didn’t quite understand what being a doc was like and it’s not for you (wouldn’t that save you a ton of effort/money?). Because the culture of medicine changes a lot (ie the individual --> team approach) and can be practiced differently in different settings, it wouldn’t hurt to maybe do a short refresher in a few years to see if it’s still what you want to do.

I got an LOR from the doc I shadowed, but I also had a professional relationship with him outside of the shadow experience. I think it would totally depend on how much actual interaction you had with the doc and what they actually learned about you and your ability when considering getting an LOR from them. Some schools limit the amount of LORs you can submit. Do you really want to submit one that says “EMTEDT shadowed me. He saw stuff and didn’t get in the way”? In this sense, maybe it’ll be good to start now and keep that relationship going as a mentor/mentoree thing so they can write something about YOU and not just the fact that you followed them around.

Some schools have different LOR requirements as to who they want one from and how recent they need to be. You’d have to do a little bit of research into the schools you want to apply to.

There’re a lot of folks who stay away from SDN. In my opinion, there’s a lot of good info to be gained from SDN. There is also a huge amount of insanity going on on that site. It also seems to be a majority of younger folks who are in a different situation than you are: no family, no kids, no job, no financial worries, no time constraints, and no real experience outside of academia. There are also going to be those people who try to make it seem so daunting that people self-eliminate from the competition pool. Take it all with a grain of salt and think about things as you would going into a job interview. They want to know that you have the requisite background, attitude, and ability to learn/succeed in this business. How can you personally demonstrate this given your experiences within the constraints that life has imposed upon you? Sure, some schools want the super book-smart people, but many are also looking for well-rounded human beings that are socially adapted (not a dig on smart people).


I recently asked Dr. Gray (he is transitioning to taking over OldPreMeds and currently runs MSHQ) some of the same questions you have about a shadowing or volunteering minimum and LORs. There are few schools that have a set number of hours that are required prior to applying. Like Kennymac said though, it’s best to check with the schools. The schools I’m applying to don’t have a minimum requirement, but 40 hours seems to be a safe number in my mind.

The same goes with volunteering. Just get a variety of volunteer experiences with and without patient interaction. I understand that you have a lengthy history with direct patient contact, but from what I understand paid clinical experience is weighed differently than volunteer experience.

I plan to apply to med school this summer and was advised to just start getting my LORs around in the next month or so. The LORs shouldn’t typically touch your hands so Dr. Gray suggested using Interfolio as an online storage site for your LORs that can be pulled directly when you’re ready to apply.

I obviously haven’t applied yet so my insight is by no means definitive but hopefully helpful. Good luck with everything!


Glad to see you joined the site. Looks like you have the beginnings of a great application with your experience and future education plans. I decided to go pre-med last May and have finished my first semester at LSU. I will get my EMT license next month after taking the National Registry written exam. Hope to hear more from you on the forum!


Thanks for such an awesome reply! Definitely some valuable advice.


It makes sense that paid clinical experience would be weighed differently compared to volunteer experience. Do you have any resources or links to articles that discusses this in greater detail?


Good luck with the NREMT! I’ve heard some people say that it was challenging, but I didn’t find it particularly difficult. Then again, my teacher made his tests harder than the NREMT so that if we could pass his class, then we could pass the NREMT. Being an EMT was great fun! Definitely miss being on the rig at times, so enjoy it while you’re there!

Welcome. Just to let you know that just having your EMT is nothing to the adcoms. There are tons of EMTs out there. But what have you done with it. How has that experience led you to medicine or even solidified your decision to go to medical school? I was an EMT for 20 years before I stopped and while I was applying I was able to pull from my experiences and justify my going to medical school. Don’t just rely on being an EMT, a lot of younger applicants do and this is a mistake.

@gabelerman wrote:

Welcome. Just to let you know that just having your EMT is nothing to the adcoms. There are tons of EMTs out there. But what have you done with it. How has that experience led you to medicine or even solidified your decision to go to medical school? I was an EMT for 20 years before I stopped and while I was applying I was able to pull from my experiences and justify my going to medical school. Don’t just rely on being an EMT, a lot of younger applicants do and this is a mistake.


Thanks for your advice. I wasn’t going to be relying on my EMT for anything, I know its just an easily obtainable plastic card. Like you said, its the experience that counts, and that was why I put my EMT and EDT work experience in my original post. I had some questions related to shadowing and volunteering hours, but I wanted my questions to be in context with the fact that I already have had a lot of one-on-one patient encounters. Thats all :smiley:

You’ve got some great responses from Kennymac, gabelerman and Jhandyside. And it’s true that whatever you do you need to be able to speak passionately if not eloquently about it. From speaking with the adcoms at my school, they want shadowing so applicants understand the mundane aspects of being a doctor, like the INSANE amounts of paperwork that people in the healthcare industry have to deal with. Because depending on what people do as volunteer work or even as a job they may not be exposed to that perspective.

A lot of these med school application questions also never really go away. I’ve had residency interviewers look at my application and ask “why did you decide to go into medicine? You were doing X before, that’s a lot different then medicine.” Having a compelling story, displaying your passion for medicine keeps the conversation going.