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Atlantis students shadowing a doctor through the hospital (Genoa, Italy, 2019).


10 Fundamentals About Shadowing a Physician I Did NOT Learn From my College

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About Aldridge

Aldridge is a recent graduate of Indiana University and finished with a B.S. degree in Human Biology, as well as a Religious Studies minor. Aldridge is currently applying to med schools in his gap year and is planning to start his journey to become a physician in fall of 2022

You are a pre-med student on top of your already really tough classes, and are now looking to pick up some shadowing opportunities to see the ins and outs of what a physician does every day. You, like many other students, have probably asked your university’s pre-medical advisors for advice… only to get an answer of “be professional” and “get as many hours as you can.” I’m here to tell you that this is NOT the best advice and that there is A LOT more that goes into physician shadowing than that. As a recently graduated pre-med from Indiana University, I’ve logged hundreds of shadowing hours, including the unique overseas service driven trip offered by Atlantis. Here is my list of 10 shadowing fundamentals that college doesn’t teach you:

1. Be Respectful & Present

This may seem like a given, but I have personally seen other students shadow that are talking or on their phones, even when a patient is visiting with a PHYSICIAN in the same room! These are things to AVOID, and staying respectful is so important, even when information may be flying over your head.

2. Dress Nicely

The old phrase goes ‘dress for the job you want, not the job you have’ and this is so true. In physician shadowing your appearance does matter, and other providers/patients may take you as unprofessional if you are not dressed the part. Most hospitals have dress codes prohibiting certain clothes like jeans and t-shirts, but you don’t need to go crazy and wear a suit every day. Business casual is just fine!

3. Be On Time

Here is where confession time comes…I have been late to a few shadowing days and I would 10/10 NOT recommend this. Of course, everyone is human and your physician will understand that, but excuses can seem tiring, especially if it is a recurring issue. Do your best to show up even a little early, and if you’re one of those people who is always late, try leaving 10 minutes before you think you need to.

4. Show Up Rested, Avoid Poor Decisions

The night before physician shadowing can be just as important as the day of! Unfortunately, I’ve seen other students who are just not there mentally or physically during their shadowing hours, and it definitely seemed like they weren’t getting as much out of the experience. Get a good night’s rest before your shift. Your physician will be able to tell if you show up excited and ready to go!

5. Don’t Over Apologize

Very similar to #3 is the fact that some students may over apologize or make too many excuses. While it’s normal to feel nervous and to want to impress a physician who is your superior, don’t feel like you have to say sorry for information you are not supposed to know. If you do make a mistake (like showing up late) apologize, vow not to do it again, and leave it there!

6. Ask Questions

Being inquisitive looks great! After all, it’s called PHYSICIAN shadowing because you are trying to learn how to become a physician one day. Asking questions shows you are genuinely interested in the daily life in the profession, and can be a great sign going forward, but when you ask be sure to keep in mind…

7. Know When to Ask Questions and When to Observe

Asking questions is usually a good practice to show a physician that you are truly interested in shadowing, but NOT when a patient is in the middle of explaining a major issue they may be having! There is a time and place for everything, so keep your question time to when there is some alone or downtime in a physician’s day, and not when they are having life saving conversations with patients or other providers in the hospital.

8. Individual vs. Large Group Shadowing

While most of my personal shadowing has been one on one with physicians, I have also been in several group shadowing opportunities like during my Atlantis shadowing experience in Portugal. There were many differences here, but the big ideas were generally the same. A physician will usually ask a patient if it is okay that you enter a room, so be sure to remain QUIET and RESPECTFUL, even in large group settings where it might be easy to talk to other shadowing students and go unnoticed.

9. Give Thank You Notes

This is not something that is required, but giving thank you notes to physicians who have allowed you to shadow is a great thing to do! For one, it makes them feel like you enjoyed your experience with them, but it can even help you down the road. I was actually able to secure a letter of recommendation from a physician much later on, and my thank you note likely left him with a more positive opinion of me.

10. Research Your Physician Beforehand

Doing some background sweeping is so VALUABLE in shadowing. It may feel like you’re doing a little stalking, but that’s ok! Taking the time to research what specialty your physician practices or what medical school they attended can show that you have a genuine interest in what you are seeing every day, and a care for who is providing you with the chance to SHADOW in the first place.

Overall, try not to be too stressed on your first day of shadowing! At the end of the day, providers are really not expecting anything of you other than to be professional and respectful, but these tips should help you really impress in your PHYSICIAN SHADOWING!

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Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

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John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
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Zoey Petitt

  • Atlantis '17
  • U. of Arizona '18
  • Duke MD '23
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Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
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Megan Branson

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Montana '19
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Sarah Emerick

  • Atlantis '19
  • Eckerd College '20
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Snow Nwankwo

  • Atlantis '19
  • Catholic U. of America '21
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Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
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Lauren Cox

  • Atlantis '18
  • Louisiana Tech '20
  • U. of Arkansas MD '24
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Kayla Riegler

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Kentucky '20
  • U. of Kentucky MD '24

About Atlantis

Atlantis is the leader in pre-health shadowing and clinical experience, offering short-term programs (1-10 weeks) over academic breaks for U.S. pre-health undergraduates. Medical schools want 3 things: (1)healthcare exposure, (2)GPA/MCAT, and (3)certain competencies. Atlantis gives you a great version of (1), frees you to focus on (2), and cultivates/shows (3) to medical school admissions committees.

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Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.
Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook — download yours.