Shadowing & Informational Interviewing

Shadowing and informational interviewing are two ways to observe and learn from health professionals. Shadowing involves immersing yourself in a professional’s work. Informational interviewing involves having a conversation with a health professional. Both can be done either in person or virtually and are helpful ways to learn about careers in healthcare. Most health programs strongly recommend or require some form of shadowing or informational interviewing.


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How can I find a health professional for shadowing or an informational interview?

1)  Start with people you know.

  • Do you — or does anyone you know — know a health professional?
  • Have you — or has anyone you know —  ever, as a patient, visited a health professional?
  • Would you feel comfortable reaching out to one (or all) of these people to ask about shadowing?

2)  Begin volunteering or working in a healthcare setting and get to know the health professionals who work there.

  • Your position might put you in the closest touch with health professionals who work in fields you do not plan to pursue (e.g., you may want to be a physical therapist, but you interact most with RNs when you volunteer in the Emergency Department at The American Center).
  • Get to know and learn from these people. Shadow them. And ask them to connect you with their colleagues in your field of interest.

3)  Reach out to UW-Madison alumni who work in healthcare via platforms such as LinkedIn.

4)  Use clinic and hospital directories to find contact information for health professionals.

  • Cold-emailing / cold-calling does work. It may be uncomfortable, and it may take time. But we see students find opportunities to shadow and talk with professionals by reaching out to people they do not know.
  • If you do this, remember that it is a good idea to ask health professionals you do not know to do an informational interview before you ask to shadow them. This allows you to connect and develop rapport before shadowing. It also allows the health professional to commit to a short meeting with you before committing to the longer learning experience of shadowing. 

How should I ask health professionals if I can shadow or talk with them?

Healthcare professionals are often very happy to talk with students. You can help them respond to your request to meet by explaining clearly why you want to talk with them. For example, when you reach out to a health professional, you might do the following.

  • Tell them why you are reaching out to them specifically. Maybe someone recommended them or they work in a healthcare field that interests you.
  • Share a little about yourself — e.g., where you go to school, healthcare or research experience you have, your professional goals.
  • Ask if they’d be willing to talk with you in person or virtually for a short amount of time such as 20-30 minutes. Or, ask if they’d be willing to let you shadow them.
  • And this goes without saying — always be courteous, respectful, show awareness of their busy schedule, and express appreciation for whatever they have time to do with/for you, even if this is limited to responding to your call/email.

If a health professional says “no”, do not take it personally. Health professionals are busy, and they may have to say no for reasons beyond their control. Do not be discouraged if you get a “no.” You will eventually get a “yes” if you stick with it.

CPHA has a free email template for asking a professional about shadowing opportunities.

Shadowing Request Email Template

How can I grow my network?

Your goal should be breadth of exposure. This means that the ideal situation is not you shadowing the same health professional in the same setting for 80 hours. A much more ideal situation is you shadowing and talking with multiple health professionals in multiple settings. How do you arrange this? Whenever you shadow or interview a health professional, after this experience, ask if this person will connect you with a colleague in another clinic or another department of the hospital who they think may be willing to meet with you. Remember that it is a good idea to ask this other health professional to meet for an informational interview before you ask to shadow them.

In addition, it is a great idea to talk with health professionals in fields you do not plan to pursue. This will help you learn about multiple professional roles on healthcare teams. It will also give you the opportunity to crystallize your reflections on why you will serve best in the role you are pursuing.

Do clinics and hospitals have policies for shadowing?

All hospital and clinic systems will have their own processes and policies for shadowing. For example, UW Health and UW Hospital require students to have first identified a provider to shadow. The provider (or “sponsor”) then initiates the process by filling out this form (only accessible through log-in credentials) with the date range the student will shadow, and the student will need to pay a processing fee. Note: You will need to have proof of full vaccination against a range of diseases and up-to-date TB tests to shadow. Plan ahead to help the process go smoothly! Additionally, if you plan to shadow multiple times, it can be helpful if the provider lists a longer date range (e.g. an entire semester) on the form to avoid having to pay multiple processing fees. 

For more information about shadowing at UW-Health, please visit the Vendor Liaison website, scroll all the way down to the UW Health Wisconsin non-physician observer request/job shadowing process section, and click on “Non-physician observers.”

If you are interested in a non-UW Health hospital or clinical setting, please contact providers individually to arrange shadowing or informational interviewing opportunities. Note that shadowing may be limited at some facilities. Where it is available, demand will be high. Consider starting with informational interviews or virtual shadowing during the time it takes to set up in-person shadowing.

What is virtual shadowing?

Virtual shadowing is an accessible way to learn more about a healthcare profession! It might involve a Zoom call or YouTube Live where you listen to a provider talk about a case or their profession. You may or may not be able to ask questions.

Keep in mind that while virtual shadowing is a great way to start learning about a profession, health programs will very likely want you to obtain in person shadowing before applying, too.

Check out the following virtual shadowing sites:

This list is just the beginning of what’s out there. Check YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, or other social media for accounts associated with professions you’re interested in. There are many podcasts that can help you learn about professions, too. Watch the CPHA newsletter for podcast and other media recommendations.

Can I talk about virtual shadowing and informational interviewing on a health professional application?

Yes! Professional programs want to know that you’ve studied the profession and are prepared and excited to pursue further education. Virtual shadowing and informational interviewing show initiative and interest in a profession and can help you learn more about members of the patient care team. Virtual shadowing and informational interviews often include longer conversations with health professionals that can be a nice complement to first-hand, in-person patient shadowing.

Is shadowing required?

Shadowing is highly recommended. Some health professional programs — e.g., most physical and occupational therapy programs — require observation hours. All health professional programs highly value shadowing experiences. Health professional programs want applicants to have learned from first-hand experience with healthcare providers what professionals in your field of interest do everyday.

How long should I shadow?

After you find someone who is willing to let you shadow, ask how much time this person would like to plan on having you shadow. They may have had students shadow in the past and have a set way they like to offer this experience.

We see shadowing opportunities range from a day to a few hours per week. Some health professionals may be willing to arrange several weeks or months of shadowing with you. We encourage you to spend as much time shadowing health professionals as you want and they are willing to offer. You may meet someone you want to learn more from than you can learn in 8 or 12 hours of shadowing. That is great. We also encourage you to remember that the goal of shadowing is breadth and depth of experience. This means the ideal situation is not you shadowing the same health professional in the same setting for 80 hours. A much more ideal situation is that you shadow multiple health professionals in multiple settings or perhaps have longer informational interview-style conversations with physician mentors to grow in your understanding of the profession.

Some health programs will require a set number of shadowing hours before applying. Often, that range is between 20 – 100 hours. Other health programs don’t explicitly require a set amount of shadowing, but they do want you to show you’ve studied the profession with some amount of shadowing, informational interviewing, and/or on-the-job shadowing experience.

What are some things to keep in mind while shadowing?

Each clinic and hospital has specific expectations for shadowing in their facility. Know their rules and expectations prior to shadowing.

Dress comfortably and consider wearing items such as jackets/blazers, dress pants or skirts, blouses, button-up shirts, sweaters, and closed toed shoes. Browse the SuccessWorks Career Closet for free attire for students who have financial need.

Feel free to ask questions and take notes in between patients but not in front of them. Prepare questions ahead of time.

The healthcare professional is required to introduce you as a pre-health student to each patient. There may be patients who are uncomfortable having you in the room during an exam or appointment, so you may be asked to step out. Other patients might engage you in conversation. Regardless of your level of interaction with patients, you must keep all patient information confidential.

Plan your transportation to the shadowing site in advance. Use the Metro Transit website to plan your trip if you do not own a car. Plan to arrive at least 15 minutes before your scheduled shadowing time.

What questions can I prepare to ask during an informational interview?

Below are some questions you could ask during an information interview. Be sure to come up with your own as well!

Work Environment & Skills for Success

  • How would you describe the environment in which you work?
  • How would you describe your typical day?
  • What do you spend the most time doing?
  • What kinds of problems/decisions do you face during your day?
  • What are the most important skills you use every day?
  • What makes a person successful in your position?

Personal Experience

  • Can you tell me about your career path and where you see yourself in a few years?
  • What did you study in college and what did you do to prepare for professional school?
  • How does this job affect your personal life?

Professional Development

  • When selecting a professional program, what did you look for?
  • Are there things you wish you had known or investigated when you researched and selected programs?
  • May I use your name in contacting these people?
  • If I have questions, may I stay in contact with you?

What are some things to keep in mind while completing an informational interview?

  • Call or Zoom with the provider at the time you agreed upon.
  • Initiate and keep the conversation going. Ask the questions that you came up with ahead of time but let the conversation go in other directions as well. Also, be ready for them to ask you questions!
  • Stick to your 20-30 minute time frame.
  • Ask for recommendations of other professionals you might contact to interview. Be sure to find out if you can use this person’s name when you approach the people they recommend for additional interviews.
  • If the conversation has gone well, ask this person if they might let you shadow them
  • Ask if you can contact this person again if you have questions in the future.

What should I do after an informational interview or shadowing experience?

Be sure to send a thank-you email within a day or two. If you had a great experience with a health professional, ask this person if you can keep in touch. The professional you spoke with is now part of your network. You can ask them if they have colleagues who are willing to speak with you. 

Reflect in writing about what you saw and what you learned. Create a spreadsheet (or whatever you’d like to use) to keep track of dates, hours, and contact information for all your conversations and shadowing experiences. All of this will come in handy when you are applying to health professions programs!

I have found it valuable to observe the interactions between hospital staff and between staff and patients. Seeing how all of these parts of the surgery process come together to form one cohesive unit has been very interesting.

-Katie Schleck, UW '17