Shadowing programs for premed students can be a valuable experience for those looking toward medical school. The right shadowing opportunity could elevate your application and make you stand out from your peers. For some future doctors, however, these lucrative programs are not as easy to come by as they may seem. Many people do not even know the incomparable benefits of shadowing for students about to enter the complex world of medical school admissions. A lot of questions remain about how to access proper shadowing experience.
This article explains what exactly shadowing entails in the medical field, and whether or not medical schools require shadowing hours for acceptance. We also go over some shadowing programs premed students can benefit from today and the emergence of virtual shadowing in today’s digital age.
Disclaimer: Please note: Although we have made every effort to provide the most accurate information, admissions information changes frequently. Therefore, we encourage you to verify these details with the official university admissions office. You are responsible for your own results. BeMo does not endorse nor affiliate with any official universities, colleges, or test administrators and vice versa.
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What Is Shadowing in the Medical Field?
Shadowing is a learning experience, often for students or young professionals, where they can follow those in their respective career path around throughout their workday. For premed students, this would include shadowing doctors as they treat patients, assess scans, perform tests, and more. They will be a fly on the wall in a doctor’s office or hospital floor as they learn the ins and outs of their future profession. Many prospective medical school students use shadowing hours as a practical experience outside of their schooling to spruce up their applications. This is different from clinical experience, where students are given the chance to fully participate as part of the medical team.
If you are figuring out how to make your medical school application stand out, premed opportunities such as shadowing could really distinguish your candidacy over other applicants with similar backgrounds. If you already have a specialty in mind, though this is not required, shadowing a doctor in that discipline will assess whether that specialty is actually right for you. The hours you spend shadowing are a chance to find out what really interests you about a career in medicine and get down to the bottom of why you want to become a doctor. This is your chance to ask questions, build meaningful relationships with physicians in the field, and get some worthwhile experience under your belt.
Want to learn how many shadowing hours you actually need to get into med school? Check out this video:
Nowadays, there are many different ways shadowing can occur, especially in tandem with your premed undergraduate studies. Virtual shadowing is a viable option, due to the advancement of telemedicine and the delivery of health care through technological means. There are pros and cons to both in-person shadowing and online opportunities, but if organized correctly, both can succeed in providing the overall benefits of a shadowing program because the core mission of shadowing remains the same. Your role is to be a passive observer of the day-to-day operations of who you are shadowing, and whatever mode you see yourself enjoying more or that is the most convenient will be the best road to take.
This worthwhile experience can directly contribute to how to stand out in a medical school interview, as you will be asked to single out specific instances in your life that inspired your career in medicine. A unique experience while shadowing could be one of your signature talking points when relaying your qualifications to medical school admissions committees.
When becoming a doctor or pursuing medical school, there is a lot of pressure to perform effectively as the next generation of health care providers. Shadowing really helps students discover if they are on the right path and is the first steppingstone to a fulfilling career as a medical practitioner.
Do Medical Schools Require Shadowing Experience?
Yes and no. This really depends on what the school prefers and their individual requirements as an institution when letting in future medical students. There is also no set number of shadowing hours for medical school that should be completed; it’s at your discretion. When you are narrowing down which schools to apply to, you may learn that some schools require a certain number of shadowing hours, from 12–24 to over 100, to even be considered for admission. Just as easily, there are schools that do not require specific shadowing experience. Each school will value shadowing differently. So, check out the specific medical school requirements for each school to verify whether or not they require shadowing experience.
One way to compare your shadowing experience with that of peers is to use the AAMC’s MSAR database to check the percentage of matriculants at your preferred medical schools in the US or in Canada who engaged in this activity prior to applying to medical school. For example, at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine over a four-year period, the rate of physician shadowing/clinical observation among applicants rose from 77 to 85% – but it is not uncommon to see rates as high as 98% for some schools. The higher the rate of shadowing among accepted students, the more important it is to gain adequate shadowing hours if you’re applying to that school.
That being said, shadowing experience will rarely ever supersede your academic performance, interview, or standardized test scores. You will see that while shadowing is a very helpful part of any medical school application, it falls into a grey area where it is not exactly considered clinical experience and not exactly considered traditional volunteer experience. That may partially explain why it is so difficult to quantify how many hours are necessary. Any hours you spend shadowing could be taking away from studying, extracurriculars, or your personal life, so it is important to not go overboard. Shadowing is just one of the many things that you will be evaluated on when you apply, so it should mainly be considered to enhance your application. It should not be completed at the expense of your GPA.
What Is the Value of Shadowing for Premed Students?
If shadowing experience is optional for some schools, then why is shadowing so important?
1. It demonstrates your interest and commitment to medicine: In addition to the likelihood that it will be your first real exposure to the daily workings of the medical field, shadowing shows a dedication to the craft that not everyone has. Logging in for several hours of shadowing really shows your willingness to go above and beyond to learn as much as possible.
2. It supplements clinical experience, which is hard to come by before you start medical training: Shadowing hours are the perfect companion and may even help increase your clinical experience through exposure to situations in a hospital or other health care environment.
3. It gives you an early start: As for when to get started with shadowing, earlier is best, but whenever you feel confident enough in your passion for medicine to complete it, that is the right moment. Shadowing should not be a chore or burden, but an exciting moment for you as you progress through your premed years.
4. It helps you make professional connections in the medical field: The close proximity you have to the field through shadowing can also greatly benefit your application in other ways. The doctor you shadow could be a potential verifier for your references and letters of recommendation. As someone who worked with you firsthand, they will be able to persuasively vouch for your candidacy for medical school and strengthen your application to the top school choices on your list.
All of this shows the admissions committee that you have the drive necessary for medical school and want to be the best possible doctor for your future patients.
Shadowing Programs for Premed Students
Before committing to a shadowing program, looking for shadowing opportunities at your disposal is never a bad idea. If you have an interest in family medicine, your own family doctor may be an option to shadow. You are already familiar with each other and may have already had conversations about your interest in medicine. They could also put you in contact with another physician whose field might be more in line with what you want to do. Any connections you may have to the medical field are crucial in the premed portion of your life, so take note of who you can use as a resource when choosing who to shadow. Make sure you know how to ask to shadow a doctor before finalizing your decision. With all the options available to you, it may be confusing to choose among them. Luckily, we can list a few of the many shadowing programs out there that you may not be aware of.
BeMo’s DocShadowing Program
First, academic advising companies, such as BeMo Academic Consulting, are dedicated to helping students achieve their medical school and career goals. We offer multiple services geared toward perfecting students’ applications. For instance, DocShadowing is a virtual, fully accessible shadowing program for any premed student who may want the experience but cannot travel large distances to have access to one. It is a great opportunity for students who need to focus on their studies while also saving time and money on their shadowing experience. Through video training on medical topics, case studies, quizzes, and more, you will receive online shadowing experience anytime, anywhere. With BeMo, you can explore different medical specialties to understand the similarities and differences of each. Some of the many specialties included consist of emergency, neurology, plastic surgery, and internal medicine (to name a few), with more added on a regular basis. When you have finished the program, you can earn a certificate of completion that you can list on your applications to heighten your chances of acceptance.
Atlantis provides health care experiential education to premed students in the United States. Their 360 Shadowing program markets itself toward students who are looking for in-person experience that is more hands on. Your grades will not suffer, as their programs mainly occur during summers and college breaks. If you should sign up, most programs take place over 1 to 9 weeks in cities and hospitals across Europe. Atlantis permits students to shadow abroad, which can be worthwhile to many premed students who are typically unable to study elsewhere during undergrad due to the heavy demands of their courses. In the Atlantis program, students learn about a variety of specialties in greater depth than other clinical experiences available to American students while basking in the rich culture of Europe. While abroad, students can sit in on surgeries and consultations, as well as interact with other medical students or residents and get to know them on a personal level. Atlantis is a great shadowing option for students wanting to make the absolute most of their experience.
American Medical Student Association
The American Medical Student Association (AMSA) has partnered with AMOpportunities (AMO) to deliver both in-person and virtual premed shadowing programs at more than 100 locations. All AMSA members will receive a $100 discount on their program, while non-members receive $50. This program is reliant on its support system that offers students superior guidance as they plan for this life-changing experience. AMO advisors will provide you with all the necessary information and recommend ways to improve your shadowing program. AMSA and AMO are intent on making sure students are prepared for and satisfied with their program. This program is yet another shadowing opportunity that would improve your application and establish interpersonal skills that will serve you for the rest of your career.
Pre-Health Shadowing was created by students for students in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As many shadowing opportunities had to be annulled or changed, this disrupted the educational paths of many students around the world. As a solution, Pre-Health Shadowing is concerned with accommodating the lives of students as they navigate unprecedented obstacles of the ongoing pandemic. They primarily host health professionals to speak on their job, education, extracurriculars, admissions, interesting cases, and tips. Pre-Health Shadowing offers live sessions, archived videos, certificates validating student participation, leadership/volunteer opportunities, professional connections, and more.
University Shadowing Programs
Various colleges and universities can also provide shadowing programs within their medical schools to help premed students with experiential learning; however, this is dependent on each institution. The Stanford Immersion in Medicine Series (SIMS) at Stanford University pairs students with a physician mentor to shadow in clinics, observe in operating rooms, and attend departmental lectures, among other opportunities. Sophomore, junior, and senior Stanford students in good academic standing are eligible to apply for this opportunity. Meanwhile, Oregon State University’s Science College offers a medical preceptorship that permits junior and senior students to shadow a physician for one academic term. This program or another like it could be a very worthwhile experience for students, especially since they would not even need to look outside their institution to find shadowing hours. These specific programs may be a little tricky to discover because every school may offer a variation or not have any shadowing program at all. Double-check the websites of all the schools you are interested in to learn about any shadowing opportunities they may offer.
Every prospective medical school student should know that the playing field is tough and competitive. To maximize the chance of success in your medical school applications, a high-quality shadowing program, even one that only results in a small number of hours, could make a big difference and move you to the next step of consideration.
While it may sometimes feel like there is no one looking out for you in this process, it is helpful to know that there are options out there for students who need the support. With the prevalence of telemedicine services and virtual shadowing, more and more premed students are adding rewarding entries to their CV as they prepare to tackle medical school. When it comes to shadowing experience, it is important to start preparing for your applications as early as possible. Make sure to always stay on top of what you are personally doing now to advance yourself and what you could be doing in the future. Your passion for medicine will lead the rest of the way.
1. What does shadowing entail?
It may depend on the specialty you are shadowing for, but generally you would be observing the physician from start to finish for the days that you go in. It is a very passive role that is solely meant for you to learn from simply being immersed in the environment. You should still be extremely attentive to your surroundings as you take in the experience. While you will not directly participate in any procedures, you may be able to get the chance to view them or will be there as the doctor consults with patients. Taking notes in between patients or on breaks will help you remember your experience and sort through your thoughts.
2. Why is shadowing necessary for some schools?
Shadowing and other clinical experiences are more than just about learning about what it is like to be a physician. For admissions committees, the right amount of shadowing could show the dedication to medicine that they are looking for in future students; the fact that it is a huge time commitment shows the effort on your part to become the best doctor you can be. Shadowing may also introduce you to a specialty you are interested in.
3. How do I ask a doctor to shadow them?
By asking politely. Try and ask as early as you can before you need to start shadowing. Your schedule needs to be malleable according to the doctor’s wishes. Don’t worry about bothering the physician with your request. Most doctors know about the shadowing process or have done it themselves, so do not be nervous about simply asking the question. When sending your request, tell the doctor a little about yourself and your potential interests as a future physician. There is no guarantee a doctor will accept your request, but it is important to remain respectful at all times. Even if they decline, they could direct you to contact another physician instead.
4. Is there a specific number of shadowing hours that is ideal for med school applications?
There is no widely accepted number. Every school may have their respective requirements, so you should always check for those you are applying to. That being said, between 100 and 200 hours is probably what is most recommended. This may not be possible for everybody, so having other clinical experiences or extracurriculars for medical school can fill in for those other days as well.
5. What are some tips for making sure my shadowing experience runs smoothly?
If it is an in-person shadow, make sure to conduct yourself professionally. Arrive on time or early, dress appropriately, and be engaged. If you are taking notes, try not to do so immediately in front of patients. Make sure to remember that the patient’s needs come first and that this experience does not solely revolve around your shadowing. Try to motivate yourself by remembering what brought you to medicine in the first place.
6. What are the benefits of virtual shadowing?
Virtual shadowing programs created by admissions experts, such as BeMo’s DocShadowing option, allow you to be a passive observer to a medical professional. Therefore, it is still a completely viable option for premed students who have a lot on their plate. There are both pros and cons to virtual shadowing. The benefits include not being limited by geography or time zones and shadowing a greater variety of specialties. It is also much more convenient and less expensive.
7. What are some of the cons of virtual shadowing?
Virtual shadowing has some drawbacks. It is much less personalized, and you as the student have fewer opportunities to ask your supervisor questions. There is less chance of making connections or a bond with the physician you are shadowing.
8. Is in-person shadowing better than virtual shadowing?
Not necessarily. They can each be beneficial pathways for premed students. It truly depends on your needs, what you prefer, and what works for your lifestyle. Trying both options may give you the most, but either in-person or virtual count toward your overall shadowing hours, which can be very helpful on a medical school application.
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