Many applicants wonder how many shadowing hours for medical school are required. While most schools have specific thresholds for quantitative metrics like GPA and MCAT scores, the ideal amount and type of shadowing experience is less defined but just as important in making you a competitive candidate. In this blog you will learn how many shadowing hours you should gain before you apply to medical school. 

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Article Contents
8 min read

How Many Shadowing Hours for Medical School Shadowing vs Clinical Experience Virtual Shadowing: Is the Experience Legitimate? How Do Shadowing Experiences Contribute to Your Medical School Application? Alternatives to Shadowing Experience FAQs

How Many Shadowing Hours for Medical School Should I Aim for? (Expert Advice)

The answer to this isn’t black and white, but if you want to put a number on it, around 100-120 hours is a good ideal range.

If your program suggests (or requires) a range of hours, it’s always best to aim at the top end. For example, if they recommend or require 100-120 hours, aim for 120. But, not all programs have requirements for shadowing…

We’ve broken this down with the help of our expert consultants:

Is There a Specific Shadowing Requirement?

There is no clear-cut number of hours, and most schools will simply require or recommend shadowing without a number attached. 

However, some schools will have specific shadowing requirements, e.g., 15-30 hours, 50+, or even 120 hours…so it’s imperative that you check the particular medical school requirements of the schools to which you’re applying.

One of our consultants explained her experience:

“I had 300 hours of shadowing and 100 clinical hours required. In my opinion, next to MCAT and GPA, experience with patients comes second [in terms of importance for med school applications].” – Dr. Monica Taneja, MD, University of Maryland School of Medicine

It may sound like a lot, but shadowing one doctor for one day will be approximately 10 hours, so if you can shadow multiple doctors for a total of 10 days spread over time, (even over a year or so if you start early), then you can easily hit your target.

Another consultant, Dr. Sona Nuguri had similar requirements.

“I learned a lot about the team dynamics. I think [shadowing and clinical] experiences are extremely important! Students are not exposed to the reality of medicine and how emotionally and physically challenging it is. It can allow them to be in the shoes of the physician and experience the drawbacks of the specialty.”- Dr. Sona Nuguri, MD, University of Oklahoma Medical School.

Do You Still Need Shadowing Hours if They Aren’t Required?

In the words of our consultant, Dr. Mistry:

“Any (clinical or shadowing) experience is an asset, but not always mandatory. If you do not have experience it does not automatically make you a weaker applicant. However, the experience is an asset.”- Dr. Neel Mistry, MD, University of Saskatchewan College of Medicine

Take it from all of our consultants: If none of the schools you’re applying to have specific requirements, then the best course of action is do as much as you can within reason. Your coursework, GPA, and other commitments still take precedence and striving for a mix of both clinical and shadowing experience is highly recommended.

How Can I Ask to Shadow a Doctor?

It can be a daunting task to ask for a shadowing opportunity! But, it’s imperative that you do so with confidence and a professional approach. We’ve written a blog that breaks down how to ask to shadow a doctor that dives into the topic a bit deeper! (We’ve got a video below, too).

Want to know how to ask to shadow a doctor? Check out this video! 

Should I Get Experience Shadowing in a Specific Specialty?

Yes! You may wish to shadow doctors in various specialties; you don’t need to shift to a new specialty each time you shadow, it is a great opportunity to get great exposure to the various types of workdays doctors experience.

In Dr. Nuguri’s case: “I shadowed a pediatric cardiologist, cardiologist, gastroenterologist, and a general surgeon. I volunteered at a free clinic. I learned a lot about the emotional vulnerability patients come with and how to treat different groups of people (acute cases, children, elderly, etc.)”

It goes without saying day for a family medicine specialist differs wildly from a day in emergency medicine, just cardiology differs from neurosurgery, and so on. There’s no substitute for the kind of direct observation that good shadowing experiences provide, so cast a wide net and use it to give yourself as complete a sense as possible of your potential career paths. Create a short list of specializations that interest you and see if you can get shadowing experience for at least three of these!

What Is the Difference Between Shadowing and Clinical Experience?

If you’re planning to apply to medical school, then you probably already know that having both active clinical experience and experience shadowing a doctor or multiple doctors is a good idea. However, shadowing and clinical experiences are viewed differently by medical school admissions boards, so it’s important to understand their differences and then figure out how many clinical hours vs shadowing hours you need.

Clinical Experience

In clinical experiences, you’ll often get the opportunity to actively participate as part of a medical team, interact with patients, and gain valuable exposure to the world of medicine. Our consultant, Dr Taneja shared her experience and expert insight with us: “A big piece of clinical experience is the validation that medical school is right for you.” This is obviously crucial, and a huge part of your development as a premed student and as a future professional…whether you take the leap into medicine or not. In Dr. Taneja’s case, it was required, but she found the experience to be invaluable and beneficial: “It [her clinical experience] benefitted me because it exposed me to primary care, patient screening and limitations of care. It justified that I wanted to go down this path.” We’ll discuss some specific activities that count as clinical experience later on in the “Alternatives to Shadowing Experience” section, but it suffices now to generally distinguish clinical experiences as active, hands-on experiences that put you “into the mix.”

Want to learn how to gain clinical experience? Check out our infographic below:

Shadowing Experience

Shadowing is a passive activity– you will follow a doctor through an entire shift or multiple shifts, from the time they arrive to the time they leave their workplace. While there isn’t usually much direct patient interaction, these shadowing experiences will help you gain a more complete understanding of what an average day looks like for a practicing physician. This knowledge of day-to-day details is crucial, as you not only need to prepare for the realities of being a medical practitioner but, crucially, have some way of showing this to the schools to which you’re applying. As well, physicians with different specializations have very different routines and responsibilities, so shadowing multiple doctors in multiple specializations that interest you is key.

That, however, brings us to the common question, “How many shadowing hours do I actually NEED to get into medical school?" This may seem like a simple question but, as with other less concrete application criteria, the answer is a bit complex.

Virtual Shadowing: Is the Experience Legitimate?

In a changing world with rapidly evolving technologies and new challenges, the medical profession is constantly evolving, and this impacts medical school admissions requirements as well. Because society and medical care is very digitalized now, some physicians, programs, clinics and schools offer virtual shadowing as a means to mitigate potential barriers, allow for greater flexibility (and less commuting), and a plethora of other benefits to pre-med students.

A couple of decades ago, virtual shadowing might have been too “out there” – but now, it is a commonly listed medical school extracurricular. Most medical schools accept it and consider it no different to in-person shadowing. Some schools even specify this on their admissions website. Nevertheless, it’s a good idea to confirm with the medical schools you’re applying to about their policies regarding virtual shadowing experiences. However; there are different kinds of virtual shadowing (some more interactive than others) so if you are simply viewing a video and taking notes, you may have trouble drawing value from this experience. Quality over quantity! Even if it isn’t counted towards the specific medical school prerequisites, remember, you can still consider virtual shadowing experience as a general healthcare related extracurricular and list it as such in your application and/or refer to it in your essays. 

How Do Shadowing Experiences Contribute to Your Medical School Application?

The depth of your insights and reflections about the shadowing hours is a critical factor for admissions committees. Ultimately, what you get – and how well you articulate what you get – from shadowing experiences is far more important than the specific number of hours (unless the schools to which you’re applying do have specific hours requirements). As our consultant, Dr. Taneja said, “It (shadowing and clinical experience) gave me a lot of unique talking points on my application.”

Use your shadowing experience in your AMCAS work and activitiesAMCAS most meaningful experiences, autobiographical sketch, personal statement, and/or medical school secondary essays, as a way of highlighting your curiosity and investment into medicine as a career. Reflect on your experience as a way of demonstrating some key qualities about yourself. Take note of particularly meaningful events or interactions you witnessed, and draw on these as inspiration for why you want to live the kind of life you had the privilege of observing. Additionally, with the greater push for diversity and inclusion in medical school, if you had specific circumstances that directly influenced your decision to seek out virtual experiences over in-person experiences, make sure you include this information in your application. The ideal place to discuss this topic in detail would be your medical school diversity secondary essay.

 For all of your experiences, provide all the required details including the name and credentials of the physician you shadowed. Focus on the specifics of what you observed, what you learned, and how it contributed to your understanding of and passion about the medical profession. Include information about the number of hours you completed, the technology used to access the experience, and your own role in the process (even if it was a passive one).

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by your premed process, whether it be articulating the value of your shadowing experience or your personal statement, we can help. Take it from Petru, one of our former premed students:

“Writing my personal statement seemed so frustrating and overwhelming. When I had a brainstorming session with a BeMo tutor that all changed. Ashley was able to find amazing and unique experiences to include in my personal statement that would make me stand out. Ashley listened attentively and gave great advice how to prioritize my experiences. Highly recommend BeMo to any premed student who wants a phenomenal personal statement and a great application overall.” – Petru B. Former BeMo Student

Alternatives to Shadowing Experience 

If, try as you might, you simply cannot arrange any shadowing experiences during your busy premed years, don't panic! According to an AAMC survey of medical school admissions officers, 87% of those surveyed stated that alternative activities were acceptable in place of shadowing. 

In addition to purely academic activities like research or teaching assistantships, these include: 


1. How many hours of shadowing experience do I need?

There’s no commonly accepted number among medical schools, and requirements vary from school to school. Always check with your desired medical schools for specific numbers and details. We recommend you have between 100-120 hours, but if that’s not possible you can usually substitute with other relevant activities like those listed in our blog above.  

2. How do I ensure a good shadowing experience?

Aspects of basic professionalism shouldn’t be overlooked, such as showing up on time (i.e., early), dressing appropriately, and having a good understanding of both the doctor you’re shadowing and their specialty. Be as engaged as possible without making yourself the center of attention. The patients’ needs come first, and in a situation involving really sensitive medical matters, you may be asked to leave the room. Be understanding and supportive of both the doctor and the patient, and do what’s asked of you without pushback or needless commentary. Treat it as an experience that you strongly desire for its own merits and not to simply fulfill a requirement for furthering your career. Even if the patient doesn’t notice, the doctor you’re paired with will be aware of your motivations for shadowing, so focus on your intrinsic motivation to help others or make a positive impact in the world. Ideas like that may be cliché in personal statements but they should still be a part of what draws you to medicine.  

3. Why is shadowing a requirement?

Medical schools want to know that medicine is a vocation as opposed to simply an occupation for you. You should feel a motivation toward the profession that transcends concerns like compensation or status. Medical schools want to know that medicine is a vocation as opposed to simply an occupation for you. You should feel a motivation toward the profession that transcends concerns like compensation or status. Admissions committees also want to see that you've taken the necessary steps to see what it's like to be a physician. Assuring them that you understand the everyday responsibilities and activities of a practicing doctor is what shadowing is all about. 

4. How do I learn about my chosen schools' shadowing requirement?

The first place you should check is their website, of course, specifically the sections relating to admissions to their medical program. The AAMC's Medical School Admissions Requirements (MSAR) site is also a great resource. As its name implies, the MSAR is a comprehensive database of admissions requirements for medical schools in the U.S., and has the added benefit of being extremely clear and well-organized.

5. What does shadowing a physician entail?

Shadowing involves following a physician for at least one full day as an observer. You will not be asked to participate in any procedures, although you may be invited to interact with patients to an extremely limited degree. For the most part shadowing means you're exactly that—a passive "shadow" of the physician. On your side of things as the shadower, you should strive to pay very close attention to every detail of the physician's day and workflow. While you're outwardly passive, on the inside you should be studying and attentively soaking up all that you witness. You may have the impulse to take notes throughout the day, but as a matter of politeness you should only do this between patient interactions and not during them.  

6. Is paid clinical experience better than shadowing?

Not necessarily. If a school requires shadowing specifically then that's exactly what they want, and you should do all you can to meet that requirement. Paid clinical experiences can teach you a great deal about how to actively participate in medical environments, but shadowing is about improving your sense of personal context and understanding of the profession.

7. If I'm a Canadian applicant to U.S. schools, do I need to fulfill this requirement?

Yes! Even though it's often harder to arrange shadowing experiences in Canada, you should try to do so. Admissions committees may be more understanding if you simply cannot fulfill a shadowing requirement as a Canadian student, but unless it's truly impossible for you we recommend at least some shadowing experience. Check out our blog on Canadian-friendly medical schools in the U.S. for more discussion on how to navigate applying to schools South of the border.  

8. How do I ask to shadow a doctor?

Politely! Begin by determining what specializations you're interested in and gather contact information for physicians in those specialties. Ask at least a month ahead of when you’d like to shadow them, make your schedule as amenable to theirs as possible, and be respectful if they decline your request. That said, shadowing is something most working doctors have done as both shadower and shadowee, so don't let your nerves stifle your approach. Shadowing is a common request and you're assuredly not the first person to ask a given doctor. 

9. Can I participate in virtual shadowing? Will it count towards my shadowing hours?

Absolutely! Since shadowing is a passive form of learning, you do not actually have to be present for the doctor-patient interactions. In fact, it might be more convenient for you if you want to shadow a doctor outside of your geographical area. Instead of travelling hundreds or thousands of kilometers, you can connect with physicians all over from the comforts of your home. Because virtual shadowing can help you save time and money, you can afford to shadow a bigger variety of specialists and therefore gain more perspective.

Make sure you find a suitable virtual shadowing experience that provides you with valuable, interactive sessions with a qualified physician, and allows you to observe or learn about actual patient cases. Many universities, clinical centres, and physicians offer such opportunities, and you can reach out to them to find out more. BeMo Academic Consulting also offers a convenient, high-quality virtual shadowing program that you can consider.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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Dani Ardigo

I was just wondering how we are supposed to go about adding the shadowing experience to the 15 experiences. If we have shadowed multiple doctors are we supposed to name them all and give their contact information? That is my only concern. I understand how to write about the experiences as a whole but are we supposed to keep track of how many hours we spent with each physician and list them?


BeMo Academic Consulting

Hi Dani! Thanks for your question. You can combine all your shadowing experiences into one entry and provide the contact info for several of the physicians you shadowed in the description. Don’t forget to highlight what you’ve learned in during shadowing as well as what impact you may have had.

BeMo Academic Consulting

Dani, you are the winner of our weekly draw. Please email us by the end of the day tomorrow (December 4) at content[at] from the same email address you used to leave your comment to claim your prize!