A few tips to help you gain the most from your physician shadowing experience

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Most medical schools expect pre-meds to have had some kind of practical medical exposure before they get into the field of medicine. In fact, those who have not shadowed a doctor or taken up a medical internship before they apply to medical school will usually be at a huge disadvantage when they submit their applications. Not only do these experiences show that you know exactly what being a doctor is about but it also shows your commitment to the profession and the fact that you have seen the ‘other’ side of medicine and still want to be a doctor.

When you finally get the opportunity to shadow a physician, here are a few tips that you should keep in mind to maximise the experience and the value you get from it. 

Students learning from their mentor in the obstetrics department Get that exposure

The most crucial aspect of physician shadowing is to actually shadow the physician the entire time. Observe how they do the rounds, how they interact with patients, how they take the patients’ vitals and everything else they say and do. Think of it as looking into your future. This is what you will be doing after you graduate from medical school. Sitting with a secretary and helping to file documents will not help you realise your medical goals.

Dress appropriately & be courteous

You are working in the medical field and it is necessary for you to come across as professional and serious about what you are doing. Always dress professionally, carry yourself well and be courteous to everyone around you.

Be pro-active

Very few people are lucky enough to sit back and get a shadowing opportunity handed to them on a platter. If you are not one of those lucky few, remember that it is up to you to get the best shadowing opportunity possible. Talk to people and network as much as you can. Spread the word to your family and friends so that they can ask around for you. Get to know the people at the clinic when you start to intern. Look around in as many places as you can think of and then choose the one that you think will give you the most value.

Ask questions

You have to remember that you are shadowing a person who has achieved what you want to achieve. Keep asking questions and clear up any doubts you have. If your doctor is busy during the day, make a note of all the questions that you want answers to and ask all the questions at the end of the day.

Take notes

Remembering exactly what you did during your entire time can be very difficult. This is why it is important to keep taking notes regularly about what you did, all of your experiences and other relevant information. This will not only help you learn better but it is also crucial to go over these notes before your medical application so that you can answer questions that the admission committee may ask you.

Get immediate feedback

Get a letter of recommendation as soon as you finish your stint at physician shadowing. Do not wait for a couple of months to do this. Doctors are very busy people and if you go back after a few months, they may have forgotten exactly what work you did and your letter will just be vague at best. Also, they may have mentored several other pre-med students and it is impossible to remember specific details about someone they met briefly a long time ago.

Last but not least – it’s only right to send in that thank you note to the physician who taught you so much during your brief time together and who gave you some valuable insight into the profession. 

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