Physician Shadowing

One of the best sources for gathering information about what’s happening in an occupation is to talk to and spend time with people working in the field. Shadowing also demonstrates that you have taken the time to investigate your career choice and to learn about professionals in your career field. It is a good idea to shadow several practitioners in a variety of healthcare settings (private clinic vs. hospital, etc.).

  1. Prepare: Read all you can about the field prior to the interview. Decide what information you would like to obtain about the occupation. Prepare a list of questions that you would like to have answered during the shadowing experience.
  2. Identify Health Professionals to Shadow: Start with lists of people you already know – friends, relatives, present or former co-workers, supervisors, neighbors, etc. Professional organizations, organizational directories, and hospital websites also good resources.
  3. Arrange the Shadowing Experience: Shadowing experiences vary in length; they may range from 1-2 hours to an entire day. You may call or email the professional with whom you’d like to shadow or you may have someone who knows the practitioner arrange the meeting.
  4. The Day Of: Dress professionally, arrive early, be polite and professional. Demonstrate enthusiasm for the profession, confidence in your abilities and your commitment to healthcare. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but don’t bombard the professional with so many questions that he or she can’t get any work done. Before leaving, ask your contact to suggest names of others who might be helpful to you and ask permission to use your contact’s name when contacting these new contacts.
  5. Respect Patient Confidentiality and Privacy: Everything you hear and see should be kept confidential. Outside of your shadowing experience, you may discuss what you learned about the career, but you may NOT discuss specifics about patients that you may have encountered.
  6. Follow Up: Send a thank-you note to your contact within one week of the shadowing experience.
  7. Record Your Experience: Record the experience in a journal or on your resume. Include the following information: Date, clinic/hospital, department, practitioner’s contact information, hours shadowed, and some reflection on what you saw while you were there.
  8. Reflection: Evaluate what you learned considering the following questions:
    • How did this experience impact your decision to pursue this career?
    • What did you like most about this shadowing experience?
    • What turned you off?
    • What are you unsure about?
    • What areas would you like to explore next?

Sample Questions

The following are sample questions you may wish to ask during your shadowing experiences:

  1. On a typical day in this position, what do you do? How many patients do you see each day?
  2. How many hours do you work in a typical day/week?
  3. What kinds of problems do you deal with?
  4. What percentage of your time is spent doing what?
  5. How does the time use vary? Are there busy and slow times or is the work activity fairly constant?
  6. What personal qualities or abilities are important to being successful in this job?
  7. What part of this job do you find most satisfying? most challenging?
  8. How did you make the decision to pursue this field?
  9. What entry level jobs are best for learning as much as possible?
  10. How do you see jobs in this field changing in the future?
  11. Is there a demand for people in this specialty? Why or why not?
  12. What special advice would you give a person entering this field?
  13. What types of continued education or training is available or required?
  14. What do you look for in a colleague?
  15. How much patient interaction do you have?
  16. How much of your time do you spending doing paperwork?
  17. What type of patients do you work with or does this hospital serve?
  18. Which professional journals and organizations would help me learn more about this field?
  19. What do you think of the experience I’ve had so far in terms of entering this field?
  20. From your perspective, what are the problems you see working in this field?
  21. If you could do things all over again, would you choose the same path for yourself? Why? What would you change?
  22. What surprised you most about working in this field?
  23. What advances do you think will be made in this field and how will that impact your career or the way that you do your job?
  24. How do you balance work and family responsibilities?
  25. What can you tell me about the hospital/clinic that you work in?
  26. Who do you know that I should talk to next? When I call him/her, may I use your name?
  27. How does technology play a role in this field or in your job?
  28. What courses do you wish you would have taken as an undergraduate student?