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5 Tips for Shadowing Physicians

By: Maya Sabharwal


  • Dress professionally.

While you may not directly be interacting with patients, dressing appropriately helps maintain an air of professionalism in the hospital. Also, the way you dress will shape others’ impressions of you. Business casual attire is typically what is expected. You may be asked to wear scrubs, particularly if shadowing a surgeon in the OR. If this is the case, the scrubs will likely be provided to you. Even if you know you will be wearing scrubs, you should still arrive at the hospital dressed in business casual attire before changing into scrubs. Additionally, remember to wear comfortable, closed-toed shoes. Physicians tend to spend a fair amount of their days walking and standing for long periods, so it is important to be prepared for this. Lastly, if you wear nail polish, keep it a neutral color. 

  • Be punctual.

Arrive early—15 minutes early is a good rule of thumb. Take into account factors outside of your control, such as traffic, parking, and navigating the hospital. Punctuality is very important in order to maintain professionalism. If an unforeseen morning delay pops up, do not panic. Call the office and let someone know, so they can relay the information to the physician who is expecting you. 

  • Be as inconspicuous as possible.

It is very important to ask a lot of questions to show interest in the physician’s work; however, make sure to ask questions at appropriate times. Ask questions between seeing patients, not in front of them. It may be useful to bring a notebook and pen to jot down notes in case you have questions to ask later. You should also come prepared with questions already at hand. A physician assistant, nurse, or other medical professional working alongside the physician you are shadowing may also be valuable resources for information regarding any questions you have. 

  • Follow up with a thank you letter.

It takes 5 minutes to write a sincere thank you note to the physician you shadowed. This small token of gratitude can go a long way. A thank you note is not expected, but it is definitely a pleasant surprise. Also, consider writing additional thank you notes to any other staff who you had positive interactions with during your shadowing experience. It feels good to be appreciated!

  • Ask for a recommendation letter promptly after finishing your shadowing rotation.

If you feel as though you have had a successful and interesting shadowing experience and have had enough time for the physician to get to know you, it may be worth asking for a letter of recommendation for your medical school applications. Asking for the letter promptly after finishing your shadowing experience is important, because if you wait several months or so the physician may not remember the experience. Additionally, do not procrastinate asking for the letter until right before you need it. Physicians are busy, and most do not have the time to write a letter that you need in a few weeks. Give physicians plenty of time in advance to draft a well-written reflection of their time with you. 


Anna Vardapetyan

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