As someone who advises pre-med students about healthcare electives and pre-health shadowing opportunities in Africa, one of the question that has always come up is ‘what will I be involved in?’ There is always that fear of working in a foreign country but this doesn’t compare to the immense experience one gets to achieve with working abroad.

Shadowing gives you a very tangible sense of what life is like for a practicing physician. Working alongside that doctor enables you to gain valuable insight into what the daily life of a doctor entails. While shadowing you get to learn how to work with patients, the healthcare team (i.e. Nurses, Physician Assistants, Midwives, Dentists among others), and what the challenges and rewards are of working in the medical profession.

The most crucial question thus is just how can one maximize their pre- med shadowing internship and make it count? Here are a few points to note as you think of the pre medical shadowing.

Choose your shadowing destination wisely

This point narrows down to preparation. To reap the biggest chunk of benefits from the shadowing opportunity you have to plan early in advance. Which specialty do you want to shadow? When do you want to experience this event? Where do you want the experience to be?

Read about the things you want to shadow

After determining where you want to shadow and the specialty, it is now time to swing into research of what is there for you to learn. If you intend to look at the infectious diseases think though and research on the list on such cases in depth. This is crucial for you to be able to ask insightful questions which demonstrate your interest. Prior research is also very paramount to engaging your mentors and the physicians you shadow to even explain more than the daily happenings at the hospital.

Shadow a physician for considerable amount of time

Most placements organizations and universities recommend spending a minimum of 25 hours a week shadowing a physician as it helps one gain a broader insight into what the real life of a physician entails. When one interacts with the role of a doctor for a longer time and are able to understand what is entailed in the role and the unique aspects skills, attributes and attitudes required for excellence in the field.

Keep a journal for your reflections

The day’s activities in a hospital set up and in the doctor’s operations are vast and with extremely huge learning opportunities. Keeping a journal of your shadowing experience will help you maximize what you learn by putting your thoughts to words and serve as a reference during your admissions process. You should ensure that you note specific details, such as interactions and moments that stood out for you. The learning gained from your experiences is extremely important in your development as a doctor and can enhance your personal statement and interview for medical school admission.

Inquire on what it takes

This particular one requires one to go beyond the observational and process based learning to focusing on what it takes. As you shadow you should continually engage the doctor to find out what it really entails to be a successful practioners. Inquiring on how the physician balances between the job and the personal life may help one to be able to establish whether this is the profession best fit for them.

Be open to assisting

Across the globe there is shortage of medical personnel. As one is immersed into the healthcare system they become more or less a team member. The team may thus wish to involve the student in some activities which may involve running an errand like delivering a patient file, directing the patients to a particular unit or picking the basic statistics for recording. Being open to participation in activities but only within one’s competence is a key to the gateway of learning.

Seek a recommendation

After the whole shadowing experience, you should request for a recommendation letter from the physician you were shadowing or from your placement organizer. This acts as an evidence of the shadowing you undertook and may be key for you as you make the application for admission to the medical school.

Becoming a doctor is a gigantic decision and if you still can’t answer Why Medicine? The more reason to shadow.

Richard Kariuki is a placement advisor at Elective Africa.