This week’s question is all about shadowing, basically some do’s and don’ts to make sure you get the most out of your shadowing experience.
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"I'm preparing for my first shadowing experience. I'll be shadowing a heme/oncologist MD. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to make the most of my experience. I'm planning on bringing a notebook and some good questions. Any other ideas or suggestions or must-ask questions? Thanks!"
Shadowing is so important in the game of premed life in order for you to understand what medicine is like. However, please note that shadowing and clinical experience are two different things.
Clinical experience involves hands-on interaction with patients where you help them do things and talk to them. Hence, you are really interacting with them.
Shadowing, on the other hand, is supposed to be a very passive experience where you're literally a shadow because you're there standing in a corner or behind the physician or beside the physician to just watch and observe. You're not there to ask questions during the patient interaction. You're not there to talk to the patients. Some physicians, however, are okay with students who shadow to do exams on the patient, if the patient allows it obviously.
Some physicians will ask your thoughts during an exam or during taking a patient's history. Basically, every physician is different.
So just go in with the assumption that you're only going to stand there, watch, and be silent. Your opportunity to ask questions to the physician happens afters the patient encounter but only if they allow you to. Some physicians won't give you any time to ask questions while other physicians will let you ask questions in between every patients. But just go in with the assumption that you won't be able to ask questions or interact in any way and that you're just going to be following the physician around. Anything else that is above and beyond that assumption is great.
Don't go in with anything (notebook, pens, paper, etc.) unless it's a tiny book that will fit in your pocket. You're going in dressed up in business casual unless you're told something else by the physician or the clinic where you're shadowing. Go in with as little as possible so that you are not burdening the clinic with needing to store your stuff. Leave your backpack or purse in the car. Go in with nothing. The less you have, the better.
Let the questions come to you naturally as you leave. Don't go in with a list of questions with what medicine is like and what life is like. Just ask questions at the end of the day about what you saw that day or the process you saw during that day. As you build that relationship, more and more of these questions can come. Ask questions about the patient at the end of the day. Do not ask a generic list of questions because that is not necessary.
As you're done for the day, you may now get your notebook out and start journaling -physician's name, dates and times, what you saw, what left an impression on you, what made an impact on you, diseases you've seen, the kind of patient interaction the physician had, what you liked or not liked about what you saw that day, what could have been done better or different. Write those things down and be sure to keep a journal of all your interactions of shadowing, volunteering (even including the non-medical stuff). Keep a journal of all your experiences because this can help you with filling out your AMCAS application, AACOMAS application, or the Texas Medical and Dental Application Service in that you have these memories and notes to go back to.