Whether you are still exploring different healthcare careers, or have already decided what profession you would like to pursue, shadowing can be a great way to learn more about whether a given health profession is the right fit for you.
Advice from Students
Some of our current students share how they found practitioners to shadow:
Is shadowing required?
While some health professions programs require a number of observation/shadowing hours, others do not require shadowing but highly recommend it.
How do I find a healthcare professional to shadow?
- Start with your own network! If you have a relationship with your own doctor or know any doctors through family, friends, professors, student organizations, etc., you should start by asking them.
- Grow your network! Once you have reached out to your primary contacts already in your network, ask them for recommendations about other people who may be willing to let you shadow. These secondary contacts may be more willing to talk to you if you are referred by their colleague. Pre-health student organizations can also be a great resource for finding shadowing opportunities.
- You can also search online for local healthcare professionals and call their office or email them about a possible shadowing opportunity. Hospitals have specific policies on shadowing, such as having a physician sponsor you or for you to be a hospital volunteer before you are allowed to shadow.
- The Health Professionals Shadowing Program (HPSP) provides shadowing opportunities for students who lack a health care network and who are first generation, ethnic and racial minorities, from rural areas, or from socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. Learn more about HPSP and its application process.
Below is more information on the shadowing policies for specific hospitals and clinics:
- UW Hospital & American Family Children’s Hospital: Visit the Non-Physician Observer Request/Job Shadowing page and follow the instructions. You can use the UW Health website to find providers to serve as sponsors.
- Meriter Unity Point Health: Visit the Volunteering, Internships and Shadowing page and contact the appropriate fieldwork coordinator.
- Dean Clinics: There is no formal process for applying to shadow at Dean clinics. Students are expected to contact providers individually in order to arrange shadowing opportunities.
How should I ask them?
Many healthcare professionals are happy to talk to students, but they want to know why you want to talk to them.
- Make sure to clearly express why you want to shadow this person specifically—maybe someone recommended them or they work in a specific field that interests you.
- Tell them a little bit about yourself—where you go to school, any healthcare or research experience, and your professional goals. Always be courteous and respectful.
- If they say “no,” don’t take it personally. Health professionals are busy and they may be saying no for reasons beyond their control. Don’t get discouraged; you will eventually get a “yes” if you stick with it.
Click here for a template to use when drafting an e-mail to a professional to about shadowing opportunities.
How long should I shadow?
You should first find out what the healthcare professional is comfortable with or what has worked well for this person in the past. Shadowing opportunities range from a day to a few hours per week for several weeks or months.
What are some things to keep in mind while I shadow?
- Each hospital and clinic might have specific expectations for shadowing in their facility. Be sure to familiarize yourself with their rules and expectations prior to your shadowing experience.
- Dress professionally and comfortably.
- You can feel free to ask questions and take notes in between patients, not in front of them. Prepare questions ahead of time—see our informational interview page for ideas.
- 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 the patient, it’s important that you keep all patient information private.
- Be sure that you have transportation to the shadowing site. Use the Metro Transit website to plan your trip if you do not own a car. The following bus routes will get you to or within a short walking distance to the local hospitals:
- UW Hospital/American Family Children’s Hospital/William S. Middleton Memorial Veteran’s Hospital: 1, 2, 10, 11, 15, 28, 37, 38, 44, 48, 56, 57, 70, 71, 80, 84, W1, W3
- Meriter Hospital: 4, 5, 6, 7, 13, 27, 47, 48, 82, W1, W3, W5, W7, X06
- St. Mary’s Hospital: 4, 5, 13, 44, 47, 48, 75, W5, W7, X04
What should I do after I shadow?
Write thank you notes to show your gratitude. If you feel you had a great experience, ask the healthcare professional that you shadowed if you can keep in touch. (If you maintain the relationship, you might be able to ask for a letter of recommendation in the future.) Make time to write a reflection about what you learned through shadowing and also keep track of dates, amount of shadowing hours, and contact information, which will come in handy when you are applying to health professions programs.