Sunday, July 21, 2013

How to Shadow... Like a Boss... Part 2

Q: How often should I shadow & for how long each time?

First, a quick vocabulary lesson:
Preceptorship = an extended shadowing experience (consistently shadowing the same physician over some length of time)
Preceptor = the physician whom you shadow

I recommend shadowing as often and for as long as the doctor wants you to.

Many doctors will have experience letting students shadow, so they'll often have a particular way of running the show. My first preceptor was very specific: she asked me to come for a half day once a week. I did that for about 2 months during the summer.

Preceptorships are a nice warm-up for 3rd year in med school, when you're expected to be eager to be there and learn. Meaning: if a doctor offers to let you come in more often than once a week or for the entire day, I wouldn't turn it down without good reason. (Obviously, if your schedule doesn't allow, just say so.) In the same vein, if a doctor says you can only shadow one time, that's still valuable experience.

What about the length of the preceptorship? As in, should you shadow a doctor 4 times and then move on or keep going for eternity? I think that's something you have to feel out. In general, you'll start shadowing with the understanding that it's temporary. This way, you both have an out if there's a personality clash or you realize pediatrics is boring to you, for example. 

That's how it started with my second preceptor. I asked if I could shadow, and he said to show up Friday at 7am and we'd "see how it goes." He also asked me to come for the entire day, not half days.  (I ended up shadowing him weekly for about 9 months, and now I've worked with him at a healthcare consulting company for almost 2 years total, so obviously it went okay.)

However, there were plenty of other doctors I only shadowed once. One was a wound-care doctor who's extremely busy, so she made it clear that it was going to be a one-time thing. Another was a neurosurgeon who told me I should "just go to PA school" because malpractice insurance is so expensive and he wasn't making any money with his divorce anyway. (I'm sure you can see me rolling my eyes all the way from wherever you are.)

Just be as flexible as you can. The more doctors you meet and the more specialties you experience, the better. If it doesn't work out with a doctor, learn what you can and move on. 

And remember that they are not obligated to let you shadow. Be nice. Offer to get them coffee. Make sure you are respectful of the doctor, the staff, and the patients. And thank the doctor EVERY TIME before you leave! 

Please leave comments or ask questions!

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