Lame shadowing question

Hi, all. Hope those of you on Spring Break, like me, are enjoying it! I’m happy to have some free time, but of course, I’m using a lot of it to study! I cannot believe it’s Thursday already though! I wish Break was 2 weeks long.


I have a perhaps lame shadowing question. I have not done any shadowing yet, but plan to soon. I’m focusing right now on studies and volunteering, mothering, working, and keeping my head on straight! I was wondering, and I know this may vary a lot, what the shadowing experience is like. Are you literally following around a Dr. all day? I would feel in the way, but I know this is a valuable experience. I recently trained and had a new volunteer shadow me at my volunteer position and I could feel the awkwardness of it for her, following me around, behind me at every step. However, this was a training, too, so I was able to show her some things and have her do things on her own if she was comfortable. Obviously, shadowing a dr. is not about training, but observation. So, I’m curious how some of you viewed your shadowing experiences. Did you find it awkward? Did you feel you were in the way? Did you take notes, ask lots of questions, or quietly observe?


I’m interested in everyone’s unique shadowing story! Thanks.

I’ve been extremely lucky, because the doctors I’ve shadowed have been friends of mine or my husband’s. That takes the “awkward” factor out of play.


As far as what I got to do, it varied greatly. One of the doctors I shadow is a private practice owner (hematology/oncology), so I get the perspective of seeing patients all day AND dealing with tons of business/paperwork fun. Another is a pediatric hospitalist, so I get the perspective of running around a large children’s hospital all day and teaching residents/interns.


But in every experience, I’ve found that the physicians are very eager to teach. If there is something interesting to be heard through the stethoscope, they want me to hear it. If something is clearly visible on an X-Ray, they want me to see it. If a lump can be felt on a patient, they want me to feel it.


So, while the majority of my time is spent following the doctor and quietly observing, I try to take advantage of every opportunity given to me. And any time the doctor wants to teach or explain? Just soak it up. My oncologist friend always says, “Ok, Carrie–I’m going to explain this to you, but I’m not sure where your level of knowledge is yet…so if this is boring or over your head, just stop me.”


Strike a rapport from the beginning, explain to the doctor that 1)you truly appreciate his/her time, 2)you don’t want to be in the way, so feel free to tell you where to be and what to do, and 3)you aren interested in learning all you can.


Once you do it once, the rest will fall into place! Remember–the doctors you shadow have all been in your position!!


Have fun, and enjoy your break!

First of all, no question on this site is a “lame” question! If you have a question, ask it … and don’t feel bad about it. Chances are, someone else has the same question and might not be brave enough to voice it.


OK, shadowing experiences. I’ve shadowed three difference physicians: an anesthesiologist, a pulmonologist (and ICU director), and an oncologist. So I’ve mainly done inpatient shadowing. My experience has been fantastic, as has Carrie’s. If they let you shadow them, in all likelihood, they’re interested in helping you out and in teaching, so don’t be too worried about that. Like Carrieliz, my experience has been that they wanted to educate me as much as possible about what they were doing. For example, the pulmonologist explained the lung X-rays we were looking at; and the anesthesiologist did a lot of explaining about how the different drugs worked in the body, and why certain combinations were used. It was all so fascinating!


One suggestion I would have would be to do your research ahead of time. Look up the practitioner’s profile on the Web (especially helpful if he/she is at a large clinic or an educational institution; usually they have background information, research interests, etc. listed). If they do have research interests, check out their publications. You might not understand everything, but at least read the abstract and get an idea of what they are working on so you can ask some questions about that. Also, look into some of the advances in the field, controverisal topics, new drugs/treatments, etc. Showing interest in what they do, and that you have done your homework, is a big step toward building that report that Carrieliz talked about.


And don’t be afraid to ask those questions! Maybe not during the patient encounter (depends on the situation; use your best judgment), but perhaps afterward, while they are charting or something.


One thing I found really interesting was that for the most part, the patients were completely willing to let me in on their situation, story, and visit with the doctor. This included very sensitive, even life-and-death conversations. Their attitude was that they wanted me to become a well-trained physician, and so they didn’t mind. I thought that was really encouraging.


The last thing I will suggest is to try to make some connections to what you have been learning in your classes, if you can. Especially if you have taken anatomy, physio, etc. But even a background in gen bio can give you some insight into how systems work. Making those connections will definitely impress the person you are shadowing, but more importantly, it will make the experience more rewarding for you.


Hope that helps!

Thank you both for excellent advice! I’m excited to shadow, but of course, don’t want to overstep any bounds, etc. It would be very interesting to be able to make some connections in real life medicine to what I’ve learned in all my science courses, including anatomy and physio and genetics. I have worked in clinics before so that environment is not foreign to me, but shadowing is different so I wasn’t sure what to expect. You both have enlightened me. Thanks for the tips and for sharing your experiences!

just found this blog - hope you don’t mind the insight from a current physician!


Your question is very common and not lame. I remember when I started shadowing and had many of the same concerns you do. The truth it, you are in the way - brutally honest but true. BUT - and it’s a big BUT - the physician you are shadowing was “in the way” much of his career as well. As a medical student, as an intern and a resident - we are all in the way - but guess what, that’s how the medical education system works.


What makes it work is realizing that you are just shadowing, and be a fly on the wall. Many physicians will take every opportunity to teach, some will totally ignore you. You can learn from both, one is not necessarily better than the other. Be open, ask questions WHEN APPROPRIATE, and be enthusiastic!


One more thing - be aggressive. I remember being left behind so many times in the hall because the physician was a ninja and slid into the patient room without me - so be on their tail!


Hope that helped - feel free to ask any other questions you may have.