Whether you’re passionate about healthcare or imagine your future career in medicine, pre-health shadowing is a great way to dip your feet in the field.
What is Pre-Health Shadowing?
If you’re hoping to work in the medical field, it’s important to gain a strong understanding of what your future job will entail. One way to obtain this experience is through pre-health or medical shadowing. Plus, many pre-med programs require you to complete a certain number of shadowing hours.
For example, the University of Washington School of Medicine wants to see at least 40 hours of shadowing and prefer students observe different specialties. Pre-health shadowing involves following a medical professional in their daily work. The professional serves as a mentor to the shadower.
Benefits of Pre-Health Shadowing
Pre-med or pre-health shadowing brings many benefits with it such as:
Deciding if the Field is Right for You: The healthcare field can provide a rewarding and meaningful career path. However, like with any possible career, it’s wise to explore it before making a commitment. Through shadowing, you can get a taste for the healthcare field in a low-stakes, supportive environment. You’ll see the day-to-day work of professionals in the field first-hand, giving you a good sense of whether or not it’s a career you’d be interested in pursuing.
Jobs: When applying for jobs, having shadowing experience can help you rise above other candidates.
College and Higher Education Applications: Some pre-med programs require applicants to have pre-health shadowing experience. But, even if your top-choice doesn’t have this requirement, completing pre-health shadowing hours can augment your application and make you stand out. Anyone who has done pre-health shadowing shows real dedication to the field.
Scholarships: Pre-health shadowing can be a nice complement to scholarship applications.
Letter of Recommendation: Are you struggling to find someone to write a letter of recommendation? If you complete a shadowing experience, your coordinator or mentor may be happy to write you a letter of recommendation. A letter of recommendation from someone in your shadowing experience can be very valuable. The people you work with have observed you in a professional setting where your character and attitude are on display.
These benefits coupled with the life experience you’ll gain while shadowing make it well worth the effort.
Pre-Med Shadowing Etiquette
Even though shadowing isn’t technically a professional experience, you are making your debut in what you hope will be your future career. So, it’s best to put your best foot forward! We spoke with Abby Tramel, an Osteopathic Medical Student at the University of North Texas Health Science Center who’s done plenty of pre-med shadowing. Here’s some of her best advice:
Find the Best Match
Although shadowing can be a great way to explore your area of interest, you can make the most of it by choosing an area with which you’ll be compatible. Ms. Tramel recommends using this Student Doctor quiz to help choose a medical specialty to focus on.
Don’t feel like you have to have all of your questions prepared ahead of time. Instead, be open to the experience and ask questions as they come up. That said, it’s great to look into the specialty ahead of time to know what their day-to-day work involves.
Ask if You’re Not Sure
As a shadower, you’ll get to observe procedures, see patient interactions, and so much more! If you’re not sure about something, ask where to stand or how to follow the rules. For example, in the Operation Room, Ms. Tramel says you may be told: “not to break the sterile field”. This means you shouldn’t touch anything blue in the OR. When in doubt, ask a nurse so that you can be a respectful shadower.
That’s said, it’s also important to be careful about when you ask questions so that you don’t interfere with a patient interaction. Ms. Tramel recommends saying “I have a question whenever you have time” so that the physician or nurse can let you know when it’s a good time to ask.
When in Doubt, Step Away
As a budding medical professional, it’s normal to feel woozy or like you can’t quite handle watching a surgery or procedure. Err on the side of stepping out of the room rather than passing out and becoming a patient yourself, Ms. Tramel says.
Treat your shadowing experience as a job. In other words, don’t use your phone. Dress professionally, and try to follow the behavior of those around you. Also, remember you may get a review or reference at the end of your experience. If you’re professional, polite, and punctual, you’ll be more likely to get that recommendation.
Ms. Tramel also suggests that shadowers show respect at all times. It’s never appropriate to joke about patients or cause a distraction during medical care. Instead, be respectful and keep your comments to yourself.
Overall, with an open mindset and a professional approach, you can be sure to have a great shadowing experience, Ms. Tramel says.
How to find Pre-Health Shadowing
The pandemic made it complicated to do in-person shadowing, so many virtual shadowing organizations became popular. Hopefully as vaccinations and improved treatments for Covid-19 are available, in-person shadowing will be possible.
In any case, finding pre-health shadowing opportunities isn’t always easy. That’s where VolunteerCrowd can help! We discover pre-med shadowing programs and list them in our searchable database so that you can find the one that best matches your needs. Here are just a few of the opportunities you can find with us:
This virtual Nursing Shadowing program is great for students interested in a healthcare career. During this opportunity, students will learn about the day-to-day work of a nurse and also get the chance to ask questions about the profession.
Medical Assistant Shadowing
Through medical assistant shadowing, participants can learn about what a job as a medical assistant entails and what the career is like.
Doctor Of Osteopathic Medicine Shadowing
Are you interested in a career as a doctor with a holistic outlook? A Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine might be a great career choice for you. This shadowing opportunity will give you the chance to speak with a DO to learn about this career path.
Physical Therapy Shadowing
Becoming a physical therapist can be a great career choice for health-oriented individuals. Through this shadowing opportunity, you can learn about the education path to become a PT and also get a better understanding of the daily responsibilities this career entails.
Medical Research Shadowing
For students who prefer a health career that’s not patient-facing, a job in the medical research field can be a good fit. Learn all of the details about a medical research career path in this shadowing experience.
How to Track Your Shadowing Hours
Tracking your shadowing hours can be tricky. Not only must you track your hours, but you have to be able to prove that you actually completed the hours.
While some shadowing programs may provide a certificate, it can be easy to misplace paper documents. If you do receive paper documents, be sure to make a digital copy so that you can print out a copy or send it digitally if needed.
Another solution is to work with VolunteerCrowd. We verify shadowing and volunteer hours and are also a certifying organization for the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA). In addition, you can earn a digital badge once you’ve accumulated 50 hours or more. This is a valuable way to highlight your experience and dedication to the healthcare field. VolunteerCrowd transcripts and badges can be uploaded to your LinkedIn profile or easily attached to your college or med school applications.
The Difference Between Pre-Health Shadowing and Volunteer Hours
Pre-health shadowing hours do not count toward volunteer hours. There is a good reason why. When you shadow a doctor, nurse, or other medical professional, you are a consumer of training and their expertise. As a volunteer, you are giving your time rather than getting instruction. You contribute by doing what’s required in a hospital, clinical, or other environment. In addition, you cannot double-count volunteering and shadowing hours. Your time is either spent doing one or the other. Sometimes students will do both during one shift. In that case, it’s best to enter your hours separately in the VolunteerCrowd app.