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Virtually Shadowing Doctors: 5 Pros and 5 Cons – One Pre-Med’s View

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About Marissa

Marissa is a recent graduate of Clemson University where she received her B.S. in Health Sciences. During the summer of 2019, Marissa participated in the Atlantis shadowing program in Trento, Italy, and now works as an Alumni Representative with the company. She is currently applying to medical school where she hopes to become a primary care physician.

As a pre-med student, finding clinical experiences can be difficult, especially since most of us have to juggle school and extracurricular demands. Virtual shadowing has recently increased in popularity due to COVID-19, but there are both advantages and disadvantages to consider with this option. Listed below are some pros and cons that I weighed before deciding if virtual shadowing was the right opportunity for me that may be helpful for you. 

The Pros of Virtually Shadowing a Doctor

A Safe alternative during COVID-19

Virtually shadowing a physician or other healthcare clinician provides a safe alternative for students to gain shadowing experience. Depending on the experience, students are still able to engage with physicians and patients in live time. For those that do not have a live component, videos that explain case studies still give students a chance to increase their exposure into the medical field. For me, this was a great way to learn more about medicine without putting myself or patients at risk. Additionally, if you are someone who is vaccinated and more interested in shadowing in-person, programs like Atlantis are beginning to roll out potential shadowing opportunities in the near future.

You get to observe from a unique perspective

Even before the onset of COVID-19, the transition to telemedicine has long been on the horizon. Virtually shadowing a physician as they conduct telehealth appointments is a unique experience that portrays a glimpse of what the future of medicine may look like. Being able to witness the challenges and benefits that come from telehealth allows students to further develop their understanding of healthcare and will hopefully encourage students to continue to think of creative ways to improve the way that we treat patients. 

Convenience and accessibility

Depending on where you are located, it can be hard to find physicians to shadow. As long as you have access to the internet (which can also be found for free at local libraries or learning centers), logging on to observe is quick and easy. Pursuing a career in medicine is difficult, and for students who struggle to find opportunities, participating in virtual shadowing is a great start. Bonus – no added commute time! 

Interacting within your comfort zone

Additionally, many students enjoy the fact that they can experience clinical observation from the comfort of their home. Feeling more comfortable may make you more likely to engage in conversation and take the initiative to ask questions!

You are still shadowing!

COVID-19 has made it more difficult than ever to find physicians to shadow. Just because virtual shadowing is different and not as popular does not mean that it cannot provide you the exposure into medicine that you are looking for. As long as you keep an open mind, you are sure to enjoy the experience and learn a thing or two! Some of the best experiences that I have included in my applications have been from my time virtually shadowing a primary care physician in Costa Rica. Click here to find which virtual medical shadowing opportunities are best for you.

The Cons Of Virtually Shadowing a Doctor

High levels of variance

As the interest in virtual shadowing opportunities has increased, so has the variety of programs for students to choose from. The oversaturation in programs causes many students to feel overwhelmed when considering their options. Using Reddit r/premed and other online resources may help you narrow your search! 

Decrease in patient interaction

Not all virtual shadowing programs are done live. Instead, many programs are pre-recorded videos for students to watch at their leisure. While this may add to the convenience of virtual shadowing, it does eliminate the possibility of patient engagement. 

Stronger substitutes exist 

Even with the significant rise in virtual shadowing, it is not as known or valued as other remote alternatives. For students on the fence, I encourage you to look at other substitutes, such as virtual scribing or contact tracing. Unlike shadowing, these are paid experiences that still provide those crucial clinical hours. Additionally, you can check out Atlantis to see what clinical programs they have available for pre-med students. 

Not as widely accepted as traditional shadowing

Again, since virtual shadowing is such a new concept, there are some medical schools that do not accept virtual shadowing hours. In a recent study that surveyed 162 medical schools, only 43.9% of schools said that virtual experiences are equal to in-person shadowing. Because of this, make sure that the schools you are interested in are open to virtual opportunities. You can find more information on their school website or through contacting an admissions coordinator.

Predatory programs exist

Most importantly, be careful when selecting your preferred virtual experience. There are some programs that may charge large amounts of money and provide minimal services. Take the time to research and weigh your options before making any decision. 


The onset of the pandemic and resulting changing safety procedures and protocols as well as the accelerating rise of technology in medicine have required pre-meds to think about their paths to medical school,and relevant required steps like shadowing, differently, and I hope this list helps you to consider which option is best fit for you. 


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.

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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.