Pre-Health Shadowing/Volunteering and Ways to Continue to Build A Competitive Profile in the Midst of COVID-19:
A list of ways that pre-health students can make the most of their time during COVID-19 can be found here. In addition, more information about shadowing can be found by scrolling down this page. This is a time of uncertainty and disruption for everyone, and health professional schools are well aware of the implications the current pandemic will have on pre-health students. They will not hold this time against you as it is outside of your control. Try not to stress about the “lost time” shadowing/volunteering in physical capacities and focus on the ways you can be an active, helpful member of your home community.
What is shadowing and why do I need it?
Shadowing mainly includes observation of an individual including how they spend their day, how they interact and communicate with patients, and how they work with a health care team. This experience allows student the opportunity to experience a “day in the life” of a health care professional as a way to determine if the career is a personally good fit.
Although it is rare for a program to require a specific number of shadowing hours, students who are interested in attending health professional schools will need experience with shadowing physicians before applying to their desired programs. It is important to shadow multiple physicians so that you gain insight into the daily life of all types of physicians. An important aspect of being a physician is the willingness to pursue life-long learning, and shadowing multiple physicians is just the beginning of this pursuit.
In addition to observing the daily activities of a physician and the interaction between themselves and their patients, you will want to make sure you take the time to have a meeting with the physicians after/before you shadow to ask them important questions you will not get a chance to ask during the day, such as how the physician organizes their day, stays current in their profession, address uncertainty with the patients, has work/life balance, etc.
Be sure to review some of the following resources prior to beginning your shadowing experience:
- What is Shadowing?
- Shadowing a Doctor (article from the AAMC)
- Bonus: A great book (for medical school students especially) is The human side of medicine: Learning what it's like to be a patient and what it's like to be a physician by Dr. Laurence Savett.
How do I find shadowing opportunities?
Finding opportunities can be extremely challenging due to restrictive policies and procedures of hospitals and clinics. However, some suggestions are below:
- Look to your own family and friends. Are you related to a physician? Are some of your friends/family friends a physician? It does not matter if one of your shadowing experiences is with a physician that is related to you (although this should NOT be your only experience) - what is important is the learning you gain from the opportunity!
- Look to your own personal doctors. Ask your personal family physician if they would be willing to let you shadow them. Do you go to a dermatologist, endocrinologist, cardiologist, etc? Ask them if they would give you the opportunity to shadow them.
If that doesn't work, don’t be afraid to cold call/email. Most students will need to do this. We recommend contacting MANY offices, as it may take upwards of 20 to 40 inquiries before you find a place willing to let you shadow.
- Use the Internet! Great resources are available 24/7 such as Google, phone book, the white pages or Reference USA where you can contact healthcare professionals and inquire.
- Colleges and Alumni Offices of the program you are interested in. For example, if you are interested in shadowing a Pharmacist, contact the alumni office of a Pharmacy College and let them know that you are looking to shadow and learn more about becoming a professional in the field. They may have recent graduates they can connect you with.
- National and State Professional Associations. All health professions have overarching association's of which most professionals are a member. For example, the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) is the umbrella organization for Osteopathic physicians (DOs). Some of these associations have a membership office that will maintain an online directory of practicing members. If this information is publicized, or if you can contact the association, you may be able to use this resource to locate contacts.
- Student Organizations. Many pre-health organizations will have connections with local offices or promising leads.
- Attend a Summer Shadowing Program. Many of these programs are application based, available around the U.S. and abroad and offered at little to no cost to students (with the exception of International experiences). A comprehensive list is on our website here: Summer Shadowing/Volunteering Opportunities.
- Try the Doctors at USF Health. Many students have success asking physicians at USF Health. To find physician contact
information, simply select a certain specialty (the list is here: List of Specialties) and then search that site to see if they includes information about the providers/doctors.
Some of the links are below:
- Adolescent Medicine Providers
- Cardiology Providers
- Orthopedics and Sports Medicine Providers
- Dermatology Providers
- Digestive Diseases and Nutrition Providers
- Otolaryngology- Head and Neck Surgery Providers
- Neurology and Neurosurgery Providers
- Ophthalmology Providers
- Internal Medicine Providers
- Gynecology Providers
- Neonatology Providers
- Plastic Surgery Providers
- Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine Providers
- Observe at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute here
- Reach Out and Read Program: This is a volunteer program at USF that allows students to begin to shadow a pediatrician (~ 2 hours a week) after they have served as a volunteer reader for four times and continue as a volunteer reader! (~ 2 hours a week). This program is available at the USF Health South and Health Park Clinics. See the Reach Out and Read Webpage for more information.
- PAMSA Physician Shadowing: Members of the USF Student Organization Pre-Med AMSA have the ability to participate in their shadowing program. More information can be found here: Pre-Med AMSA Physician Shadowing.
- Physician Assistant Shadowing: Students can create a free account to connect with Physician Assistants for shadowing opportunities through the Physician Assistant Shadow Online portal.
- Podiatry Shadowing Options:
- Opportunities organized through the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine: Contact Daniel Taubman, Career Promotion Coordinator at the AACPM, at dtaubman@AACPM.org.
- Dr. Robert D. Katz, D.P.M. of the Cortez Foot and Ankle Specialists in Bradenton, FL, is also a podiatrist who is available for shadowing. To contact his office, please contact Robin Howells at 941-758-8818 ext. 221 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do I ask?
Express why you want to shadow this person specifically. Maybe someone recommended them or maybe they practice a specialty that interests you. Briefly tell them where you go to school, any medical or research experiences you’ve had, and your goals. Be courteous and professional. Many healthcare professionals welcome opportunities to talk to students, so if you get turned down, ask others.
What happens after I schedule a shadowing experience?
Make sure that when you are shadowing you come prepared. Make sure to bring a notebook to take any notes of experiences that impact you or about concepts/terms/ideas that you want to learn. Also, dress professionally and turn your cell phone on silent- you are a professional, so make sure to represent yourself as such. Keep in mind as well to record the information to report later on your Health Professional application- this information is located on the bottom of this page.
How do I prove my shadowing experiences when I apply to health profession programs?
Unlike in high school, there is NO official paperwork that is required for proving shadowing experiences. Therefore, it is important that you keep track of your shadowing experiences for yourself. We recommend that you review the Tracking Activities tab on our website to review all possible ways to keep track of these experiences.