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Atlantis students shadowing in the surgery department (Barcelona, Spain, 2019).


A Beginner’s Guide to Medical Shadowing: One Pre-Med’s View

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About Ryan

Ryan Hodge graduated from North Central College in May of 2021 as a biology major and Spanish minor on the pre-medicine track. After his sophomore year, he participated in the Atlantis Summer 2019 shadowing program in Tarragona, Spain.

The Importance of Shadowing

Every pre-medicine student’s favorite question: what are the things I need to do to get into medical school? Although maybe not phrased exactly like this, the highlighted question sums up what essentially every pre-medicine student wants to know. Of course, it is important to earn good grades and score competitively on the MCAT. However, it is what you do outside the classroom and outside your scores that can ultimately set you apart. Medical shadowing is a component of your application that occurs outside the classroom that can afford quality observational experience to see what the healthcare profession is like. Although all shadowing experiences have some things in common, there are a few shadowing opportunities/programs that allow experiences beyond shadowing and allow you to grow in ways other than your passion for medicine. We will dive into those later, but first, let’s discuss the intricacies of shadowing.

What Should I Shadow?

First, every medical school would like to see that you have done some sort of shadowing experience before applying to their school. The Princeton Review offers tips and advice when it comes to shadowing, as well as information about the different types of shadowing opportunities that are offered to pre-medicine students. 

One example of medical shadowing includes contacting your local primary care physician and asking if they’d be willing to have you shadow them for a few hours one week. You’d be able to enter into the rooms with the physician and observe how they interact with the patients, their methodology behind prescribing medications, and would be able to ask them what they enjoy and do not enjoy about their careers. 

Additionally, paid positions within healthcare systems also offer chances to shadow indirectly, in roles like being a medical scribe. During my personal experience as a medical scribe, I was able to work alongside multiple E.D. physicians and chart for them every patient interaction that occured throughout our shift. Although under the job description it didn’t clearly state “shadow doctors,” working as a medical scribe offered me a shadowing experience while getting paid, and I got to learn things about the E.D. working multiple shifts that sometimes the occasional ‘shadower’ is unable to see because they are not there as long. In terms of what to shadow, you can shadow anything you want! If you have an interest in pediatrics, shadow a pediatrician! As long as you are shadowing in a healthcare setting and following around a doctor, you are most likely going to pick up something about the physician profession that you didn’t know before.

When Should I Shadow?

This is a very important question and topic to consider. You want to make sure you have time to shadow and are relaxed when you shadow. Shadowing when you have the time will allow you to soak in the information, and ask the right questions so you can attempt to know exactly what you are getting yourself into when it comes to the healthcare profession. Trying to reach out to shadow physicians during a busy school semester can be stressful. Worrying too much about trying to shadow, or extracurricular activities in general, can lead to poorer grades as you are spending too much time and energy worrying about shadowing during the school year. That’s why I decided to shadow for three straight weeks, in three different specialties, in a foreign country. The Atlantis shadowing program allowed me to shadow physicians of several different specialties in Tarragona, Spain during the summer of 2019. During my three-week trip, I shadowed orthopedic surgeons, general surgeons, internists, and ER physicians. This freed up my time for the following summer, where I was able to devote all of my time and efforts to studying for the MCAT, in which I received a competitive score. Medical shadowing outside of my school schedule also allowed me to focus on my studies during the school year to earn the best grades possible. 

It is important to shadow, not only because medical schools want to see it, but also for you as an individual. You want to know what being a physician is about before you start on this incredible endeavor. However, don’t shadow when you have a million other things going on. Plan accordingly so you can take in the full experience and observe what it really means to be a doctor!

Cover of the Medical School Admissions Guide.

Two Atlantis alumni admitted to Top 5 MD programs wrote our widely read medical school admissions guidebook guidebook — download yours.

Our Alumni Enter Great Medical Schools

John Daines headshot.

John Daines

  • Atlantis '17
  • Brigham Young University '19
  • Washington U. in St. Louis MD '23
Zoey Petitt headshot.

Zoey Petitt

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

Yong-hun Kim

  • Atlantis '17
  • Stanford '19
  • Mayo Clinic MD '24
Megan Branson headshot.

Megan Branson

  • Atlantis '18
  • U. of Montana '19
  • U. of Washington MD '24
Sarah Emerick headshot.

Sarah Emerick

  • Atlantis '19
  • Eckerd College '20
  • Indiana U. MD '25
Snow Nwankwo headshot.

Snow Nwankwo

  • Atlantis '19
  • Catholic U. of America '21
  • Georgetown U. MD '26
Tiffany Hu headshot.

Tiffany Hu

  • Atlantis '16
  • U. of Maryland '17
  • U. of Michigan MD '22
Lauren Cox headshot.

Lauren Cox

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

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.

A student smiling and learning how to kayak.

Watch Video: The Atlantis Shadowing Experience and How it Helps In Your Med/PA Admissions Future

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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.