When looking for activities to include on your AMCAS application, shadowing is a powerful way to demonstrate your interest in and realistic knowledge of the field of medicine. Shadowing as many different kinds of doctors as you can is helpful; the only way to know whether you will enjoy a career in a particular area is to gain direct experience. You can start by:
1. Researching the areas of your interest
2. Locating doctors who practice in that field in your community by networking
3. Contacting the doctor(s) with your request, as well as providing your qualifications in the form of a cover letter and updated resume or CV
4. Setting a clear start and end date for the experience in your request
5. Following through by completing HIPPA forms or any other requirements before the start date
Making the Most of the Shadowing Experience
Now that you’ve identified the doctor and scheduled the shadowing time, how can you get the most out of the experience?
1. Ask for clear guidelines about the doctor’s expectations while you are shadowing.
Depending on the field, the doctor may request that you ask questions only after procedures are completed. Each doctor will have different preferences. By asking for clearly defined expectations, you can follow the etiquette requested to have the most positive experience possible.
2. Be helpful.
Offer to help in any way that you can. Be open to filing records as well as taking notes during physical exams. Anything that you can do to help the doctor and medical staff as well as to improve the patient’s experience will be beneficial for everyone.
3. Be observant.
Your job is to observe. Keep a daily journal and take notes about what you do and do not like about the work. This information can help you assess whether you are indeed interested in this field or if medicine is perhaps not for you after all. Avoid the impulse to jump in and help, unless it is requested of you.
4. Be on time and be respectful of all requests.
To be as unobtrusive as possible, be early and arrive prepared for the day. Some patients may not be comfortable having an observer present so you may not be able to shadow during all exams or procedures. Acquiesce to all requests as quickly and quietly as you can to be respectful of the doctor-patient relationship.
Since most patients will be giving their permission for you to be present while they meet with their doctor, you can be a positive and supportive presence in the room. Introducing yourself after the doctor’s introduction, making eye contact, and maintaining a calm demeanor will be important to establishing trust with each person. Learn as much as you can by observing how the doctor interacts with each person and what kind of care they provide. This information may guide you in terms of how you want to practice medicine in the future. In the best case scenario, the doctor you shadow may become a mentor.
Other Forms of Clinical Experience
In addition to shadowing, I recommend that you gain as much clinical experience as you can. Some admissions committees consider shadowing to be the most passive form of clinical experience since you really only should be observing. Other forms of more active clinical experience include: organizing and volunteering at free clinics or health fairs, translating for patients and doctors, becoming a medical scribe or EMT, and volunteering in hospitals and clinics, to name a few.
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