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Atlantis students speaking with a doctor while shadowing in the hospital (Genoa, Italy, 2019).


7 Mistakes You’re Making When Trying to Shadow a Physician

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About Alexia

Alexia Katsaros is a Purdue graduate (’21) and a pre-medical student enjoying a gap year on the Atlantis admissions team. As an undergraduate, she majored in psychology and minored in biology and sociology. In the summer of 2019, she shadowed doctors at KAT hospital when she journeyed to Athens, Greece through the Atlantis shadow abroad program.

Shadowing is important for any pre-med, but sometimes you might not feel like you’re getting enough out of it. Below are some common mistakes people make when shadowing physicians.

1. You Have Not Done Your Research

With so many opportunities out there, it’s critical that you take the time to do your research. What physicians are in your area? If you find a good physician nearby, it can ensure that you can consistently shadow without having to worry about long commutes. Ask yourself if you’d be willing to travel to gain a shadowing experience abroad. The Atlantis program gave me the unique opportunity to shadow doctors in Athens, Greece. As a result, I was able to get a unique outlook on healthcare outside of the United States.

2. You Have Poor Etiquette

Although this may seem obvious, you should understand that there are expectations for any shadowing endeavor. Always be on time. This is an important habit to fall into; promptness exudes professionalism. Make sure to communicate on the days you cannot show up for shadowing. Always stay engaged and, when appropriate, ask questions. Doctors will be more receptive to you if you show that you’re interested. Finally, if you are in a situation where a doctor asks you to interact with a patient, ensure that you have the patient’s consent. Always protect their privacy and do not discuss any patient-specific information outside of your shadowing location.

3. You Are Trying to “Pad Your Resume”

DON’T shadow just to fill in your application. DO shadow to gain insight on the field(s) you’re interested in and better understand the day-to-day routines of healthcare workers. This will be the most rewarding to you in the long run.

4. You Aren’t Consistent

You should have a clear schedule for shadowing. This can help keep both you and the physician you’re shadowing on track. If your schedule is too tentative, your physician might not follow up with you and you might lose your shadowing opportunity. 

5. You Haven’t Found a Field You Are Interested In

If you find that you’re not getting as much out of your shadowing experience as you thought, try finding a physician who specializes in something you’re interested in. It can be easy to pick the first physician that becomes available to you, but it would be more rewarding for you to seek out a specialty you personally like. When I was in Athens with Atlantis, I was able to specifically request the types of physicians I wanted to shadow. This included abdominal surgery and orthopedics, though I was open to any type of surgery. I was able to shadow the doctors I requested and even got to observe some unique surgeries along the way.

6. You Are Shadowing Too Little

This tip strongly pairs with being consistent and creating a reliable schedule. If you’re shadowing for only a couple of hours once month and a couple more the next, you won’t convince medical schools that you’re really interested in clinical shadowing when you list your hours in the AAMC application.

7. You Are Physician Hopping

This can tie in with the importance of doing your research before selecting a position to shadow. Although trial and error are important, you should at least narrow down what type of shadowing you’re interested in before you commit to it. There are only 15 spots to talk about your extracurriculars on your medical school application, so if you change physicians too much you might have to omit some of your experiences. Keep this in mind when you’re shadowing different physicians and try to keep it to 3-4 experiences max— supplement this with quality hours. 

With these tips, I hope you were able to identify some of the ways you could improve your shadowing process. Remember to weave in the AAMC’s core competencies when applicable, too. Good luck and happy shadowing!

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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.