This article contains generic information – not legal advice. If you find yourself in a questionable or problematic situation, seek professional legal counsel.

While on break from school over the holidays, consider spending several hours shadowing a physician to gain clinical shadowing experience. The term “shadowing” refers to a premedical student observing a licensed physician or other licensed health care professional under appropriate supervision.

Shadowing is an important component of a competitive medical school application for premed students. In fact, the American Medical Association (AMA) compiled quotes from this year’s medical school admission directors across the United States in a sheet called, “The Scoop from the Admission Directors.”

The admission directors stated, for various reasons, that it is beneficial to have clinical shadowing experience on your resume. It should be noted that many of the admissions directors encourage premedical students to gain actual volunteer or paid clinical experience (e.g., as an EMT, medical technician, scribe) because it carries far more weight than simply following a physician around. However, shadowing a physician can be an important addition to your application and a potential talking point during medical school interviews.

First, clinical shadowing gives you an idea of a physician’s lifestyle and daily routine. If you have a particular area of interest, shadowing allows you to gain a glimpse into that aspect of medicine. For example, if you’re curious about having a surgical career, it could be insightful and inspirational to observe a surgeon in action. Additionally, such an experience can give more of a “big picture” and expose you to the different roles involved in a health care team (i.e., physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses and so on).

Second, shadowing allows you to observe a physician interact with a variety of patients. Third, shadowing indicates that you have a genuine interest in medicine and are willing to learn beyond the classroom or library. Lastly, it may be possible to develop a mentor-mentee relationship with a physician you shadow.

Realize that a physician you intend to observe may not be up-to-date on the procedure or policies you need to comply with before shadowing. Most hospitals or offices have an individual in an administrative division that handle shadowing premedical students. In other words, you may have to make some phone calls ahead of time. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMA) has published suggested clinical shadowing guidelines for premedical students. Some of the AAMA advice to keep in mind in preparation for your shadowing experience includes:

  • Provide proof of required immunizations or immunity
  • Complete HIPAA compliance training or review training prior to shadowing experience
  • Sign confidentiality agreements and/or codes of conduct
  • Sign any necessary waivers or releases

In addition to the above, prior to shadowing the physician you may want to ask the following:

  • What is appropriate clothing/dress?
  • What is the protocol for patient consent – how and when will a patient be asked if I can observe the patient-physician interaction?
  • How will I be introduced to patients?
  • When can I ask questions (i.e., between patient visits or at the end of the shadowing shift)?

A few further considerations include:

  • Show up on time and early if possible. Remember the saying, “Early is on time and on time is late.”
  • Bring snacks, a packed lunch, or food money
  • Remember to bring your cell phone charger
  • Log shadowing information and hours
  • Update your resume after the experience

Personally, I’ve shadowed physicians in the past and am looking forward to shadowing a surgeon over this upcoming holiday break. Shadowing several physicians in both rural and urban areas has improved my awareness of cultural diversity issues as well as given me distinct insights into differing areas of medicine. Most importantly, following the doctors around and being a “shadow” has been inspirational and helped keep my motivation high for the road ahead.

If you’re a premedical student wondering how to get connected with a physician to shadow, contact local hospitals and ask about a shadowing program. You can also talk to your premedical advisor on campus and he/she will hopefully be able to assist.

So, this holiday season while on break think about taking some time to shadow a physician and explore an area of medicine that excites you!


  1. AAMC 2013 Clinical Shadowing Guidelines:
  2. AMA’s Pre-medical Access to Clinical Experience (PACE)
Headshot of Erin FortnerErin Fortner is a licensed attorney in Georgia where she practiced pharmaceutical product liability law and was a special victims unit prosecutor. She lives in the D.C. metro area and is attending a full-time post-baccalaureate program. Ms. Fortner also recently earned her EMT certification.