Shadowing Various Specialties

Rather than shadowing a family practice physician, as so many do, I thought it would be more interesting to shadow different specialties that I found interesting. Does anyone know how feasible this is? How receptive are most physicians to shadowing? Do most of you encounter rejection? My current physician couldn’t even find the time to have lunch with me. Also, how much shadowing do most medical schools like to see? Volunteering a bunch of time is not practical for me since I have to support a family with any free time I get.

Okay, your first question, is it okay to shadow a specialist? My own opinion is, I don’t know why not. The purpose of shadowing is simply to expose you a little to the world of medicine, give you enough of a taste for it so that you know what you’re getting into.
The second question, “how much?” You note that you don’t have time for volunteering. You’re making a common mistake of associating volunteering with exposure to the medical world. While most people do that, because obviously it’s more efficient, it is absolutely NOT necessary that volunteer experience be medically-related. Schools are looking for two things: 1, do you know what you’re getting into? this can be satisfied with shadowing and/or medically-oriented volunteering. 2, are you an altruistic individual who wants to give to the community? Virtually every applicant to medical school will write some version of “I want to help people,” on his/her PS. A solid record of volunteering in your community shows that you mean it. You could work in a soup kitchen, as a Scout leader, for a church or school. The point is, you really do have a sense of dedication to your community and a spirit of generosity that goes beyond the requisite volunteering to put on a med school application.
None of this really answers your question. In terms of medical experience, I think schools would reply, “Enough to know that you are in the right place.” And it needs to be enough that you can speak of it with some enthusiasm, not a quick ticket-punching sort of experience. But beyond that, it would vary so widely from one person to the next, depending on their background, opportunity, motivation - it would be impossible to put a number to it.
Not sure this helps but that’s my two cents, good luck!

I shadowed the head of the pediatric oncolgy department at the hospital. I went around with him to visit his outpatients. Now this was at a teaching hospital that was connected to a medical school, so I don’t know if that made a difference to him letting me shadow. I also got an introduction to him from the pediatrician that I volunteered with for 3 years at the free health clinic. he called the doctor because he knew I had an interest in that specialty.
That said…I didn’t include this EC on my application. I really only did it so I could gain an insider’s look into that specialty. So I was accepted without any shadowing on my application.
Now that depends on if you are applying to DO schools which most require a DO letter of rec. You can get that LOR by shadowing or meeting with a DO. But they do prefer you shadow a DO.
You could volunteer at a lot of different places… nursing homes, hospices, hospitals, free health clinics, cancer centers, homeless shelters, etc… It is a great idea though to have some clinical EC time. I personally know that my volunteer time played a big part in me getting accepted to med school.
Try and find the time. See if you can get in 2 hours per week. You will thank yourself later. good luck
Amy B

Hi there,
If you contact your local medical society, you might be able to get the names of some physicians that will allow you to shadow.
When I offered a University of Virginia shadowing experience (auctioned at the OPM convention last year) the physicians involved were very enthusiastic about having a pre-med student come. I am happy to say that Stacy will be showing up at the Salem Veteran’s Hospital pretty soon.
She will have an opportunity to spend some time with the Surgery team (Plastics, Orthopedics, Urology). She will also have time to spend with some of the medicine folk, radiology and almost anything else. She will be hanging with the UVA third-year medical students who will also provide insight into the process. They are all female this round and are all looking forward to having here with them.
She will participate in the OR, ER, clinics and on the wards. She will round with us in the morning and in the evening. She will be busy but she will get a great idea of how the whole medical system works both in the VA setting and university setting. She will also have an opportunity to get some good letters of recommendation too.
I am hoping to offer a similiar experience next year(for the OPM Convention) at Cleveland Clinic Health Systems but I won’t know what’s possible until I get there in about a month.

I have one big, bad word for you and please pardon my language…HIPPA! When I was trying to arrange shadowing in the NICU for my clinical internship in bioethics, I had no problem in 1999, but after HIPPA regulations went in place, I had so much difficulty this past December. Many times the physicians agreed, but the legal department or risk assessment dept. denied my request bc of HIPPA concerns that I would be privy to patient information and I was considered a non-medical observer (since I was not a medical student, even though I was a bioethics grad student). Anyhow, at another hospital, my request had to go before the bioethics committee and then the legal department sat on the request for 2 months. Anyhow, I finally got in bc my uncle works in a NICU and basically I just shadowed him…I’m want to continue doing so while in my post-bacc and I’m hoping my school already has the contacts and dealt with the HIPPA red tape, but it is a royal pain. Hospitals, and more specifically their legal and risk assessment departments, are very concerned about HIPPA when it comes to people shadowing.
P.S. I’ve often wondering if my being a lawyer as well made them hypervigilant…however, I presented myself as a bioethics students and did not mention my day job as an attorney.

Craig, I forgot to say that if you can logistically set it up…I think your plan is a great idea. In my past life (that just ended yesterday) I was an attorney and one thing I was wished is that their was a way to get more exposure to each type of law. Like medicine, there are so many areas of law that you just can’t take a class or work in each one. At some point, you need to pick one and in some ways it is an uninformed decision if you can only base it on the little you’ve seen/experienced or read about. Also, so many times practice areas are so different than they are portrayed or read about, you really need to see it close up…Anyhow, I would think the same is true in medicine. Good luck…I hope you can arrange it.

HIPAA wasn’t supposed to make it difficult to shadow, but somehow it has. I think it may be because office staff don’t quite understand the regulations.
I shadowed in 2001 with no troubles. When I tried to shadow a DO last summer I was turned down by 16 different doctor’s offices and was sited HIPAA as the reason.

You really need to try to get some volunteering in although you may very well have some already without realizing it. Like Mary stated medical schools do want to admit folks that give back to their community in some way so beware. You do not need thousands of hours either, you can volunteer a couple of hours per week…and yes even for non-trads this is important. Some folks will combine the volunteering part with exposure to medicine so you could go that route. Although you may not get any one-on-one patient contact type volunteering, just being around sick people and observing what physicians do will be a great experience. Although shadowing is great and I did it myself, it is usually only for one day so it does not provide enough observation IMHO to really have a meaningful conversation with an adcom about your motives for medicine…

Re: Shadowing
My experience with shadowing has been very different. Having volunteered in the emergency room and put in over 200 hrs, I have all HIPPA training so maybe that makes it easier.
However, a friend from another list, provided the following:
I also concur.
I wrote 10 letters to local physicians I wished to speak asking for a small bit of their time to speak with them about their path, the profession, what their experiences had been, and any advice that they had for me. I wrote that I would phone their office to see if they might have the time and be willing to meet with me. Eight out of the 10 physicians responded. I was not only offered the time to meet with them, but they went further to offer shadowing time, mentoring, free attendance to conferences they were attending, use of their resource materials and journals, and a host of other opportunities to meet and mingle with
others in the field. These experiences were invaluable.
The experience in a hospital or other location are important but also, if you have a chance to meet with others you never know what you will be offered. The
experiences can become well worth the time. It does help tremendously when med schools realize you know what you are getting yourself into.

I absolutely agree that it is a wonderful idea and you really make an effort to try…but I’m warning that since the HIPPA regulations have gone into place…it is increasingly difficult to shadow in hospital-based specialties, because although the physicians may be amenable to the shadowing arrangement the legal department and the risk assessment dept. of the hospitals have a different take. I even offered to take HIPPA training and I was still refused. I’m just telling you to be aware that you may have to be creative and offer also to take HIPPA training…also, give yourself a lot of time to be approved by the various depts. for the hospital-based specialties, bc it’s no longer about a simple yes from the physician.

I have posted about my shadowing experiences, which have all been excellent and I now get to post from the other side.
Last week I had an endocsopy where they inserted a baloon into part of my stomach to increase an opening that was left after surgery, well, a fellow student from my physics class (traditional pre med student) was there and one of the residents asked if I minded if he watched. I said it wasn’t a problem – and it wasn’t. If people can learn from me, great! In any case, I keep expecting to see him in the library as our exam is Thursday!

I just got done shadowing our very own Dr. Natalie Belle at the VA Hospital in Salem. I’m still writing my notes up. I was there for a whole week, and it will be a very long post. I hope to post it today or tomorrow. Stay tuned.


To the OP…
I shadowed my OB 3&1/2 years ago (prior to HIPPA). I was able to observe one of her surgeries and while she had no problem w/ me shadowing her in the hospital (including the operating room), the hospital was more stringent…even at that time. The fact that I was a volunteer at that same hospital smoothed the path; I had been trained regarding confidentiality, etc.
As others have said, hospitals and their legal staff may be even more reluctant, but I would think serving as volunteer there or at a minimum going through the HIPPA training would help. As you, I had very little free time to volunteer since I had a young family as well as a full time job. I ended up volunteering on Friday or Saturday night from 8-midnight. Four hours/week were all that were required to stay active as a volunteer. It worked out great as I was the ONLY volunteer crazy enough to be there on those days at that time. The hospital staff really appreciated the help. I’m doing it again now.
Good luck.


I have posted about my shadowing experiences, which have all been excellent and I now get to post from the other side.
Last week I had an endocsopy where they inserted a baloon into part of my stomach to increase an opening that was left after surgery, well, a fellow student from my physics class (traditional pre med student) was there and one of the residents asked if I minded if he watched. I said it wasn’t a problem – and it wasn’t. If people can learn from me, great! In any case, I keep expecting to see him in the library as our exam is Thursday!

Do you even remember your endoscopy? All I remember feeling a vaguely uncomfortable urge to swallow, and maybe the tube sliding out, but that’s it. After my first one, they told me the tentative results about ten times on my way to the recovery room before it stuck. They gave me so much Versed they could have had the Rockettes in the room with a band and I wouldn’t have remembered.

Good news! I sent out a mass letter campaign to a number of physicians in my area and got a handful of enthusiastic responses from a number of specialties. It turns out that HIPAA doesn’t have to be a big issue - I am signing a form and the doctor ask each patient if it is okay for me to observe. I figure that if a physician can’t take the time to do this for me, then they are probably not the type that will teach me very much. I just had one local doctor call me back and spent an hour talking to me about pay, time, school, etc (really trying to be helpful). So I guess it is worth playing the numbers to find the right mentors. I was planning on using a friend of mine. But he takes a week or more to get back to me when I phone him. So it really worked out for the best.
Also, on the volunteer front, I am trying to work out a deal where I can volunteer in an inner city level one trauma center at night. That will give me some real exposure to emergency medicine and at the same time do some volunteer work. Hopefully, this will work out for the next year or more.
So, play the numbers!