Monday, July 1, 2013

How to Shadow... Like a Boss

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Okay, so you set up a shadowing experience with a doctor. If you’re like I was, you don’t know what to expect or what is expected of you. Here are some tidbits I picked up over the years:

1)    Ask what to wear – Different doctors will want you in formal business attire, scrubs, business casual attire or even jeans. It really depends on their patient population and how they normally dress.
2)    Wear comfortable shoes – Always. No, really—ALWAYS.
3)    Buy pocket guides – I bought 2 Tarascon pocket guides: Internal Medicine and Pharmacopoeia. These were and continue to be extremely helpful. Whenever a doctor prescribed a drug, I could look up its indications, dosages, etc. in the Pharmacopoeia. This allowed me to skip over low-level questions (i.e. “What’s that, doc?”) and move to more impressive questions like, “How often do you have to check liver function of a patient on [XYZ drug]?” [These can be expensive though, so try to find them at Half Price Books. They don’t need to be 2013, just find the newest one possible that doesn’t recommend blood-letting.]
4)    Ask how to greet the patient – Do this first thing on your first day! Find out if the doctor wants you to introduce yourself and shake the patient’s hand, or let the doctor introduce you, or not say anything at all.
5)    Don’t ask questions in front of the patient – Unless the doctor encourages you to ask questions in the exam room, wait until you’re in the hallway. (And whenever do you ask a question in front of a patient, be as polite as possible and make sure to avoid language that makes him or her feel like a medical specimen.)
6)    Ask questions in the hallway – When you’re observing, you should be continuously thinking of questions to ask about the case. These don’t need to be high-level, but you should always have questions. Get curious! (Watch out for an upcoming post on go-to questions that impress doctors.)
7)    Research whatever you see – If you observe a surgery, research the disease/pathology. If you see a chronic disease, read about its signs and symptoms. Listen to heart and lung sounds online. Look up relevant anatomy. Again, be curious. Nothing will impress a doctor more than curiosity and eagerness to learn.
8)    Ask personal questions during long breaks – Wait until lunch or the end of the day to ask how to doctor decided on their specialty. That’s not really a hallway question, but it’s an important one to ask. (Also look out for a post on questions to ask when you have the chance.)

Of course this isn't a comprehensive list and I'm sure there will be a Part 2 in the future. Please share your own shadowing tips and experiences! As always, feel free to contact me at:


  1. These are good things to remember for rotations too!

  2. Thanks for the blog post! I'm really excited to shadow this summer, but how do I contact doctors? Also, should I be shadowing the same doctor for a few hours for a couple days?

  3. Great questions, Christle! So great, that I'm going to turn them into the next part in my series on shadowing. Look out for a post about this in the next week. :)

    Keep the questions coming! They help me to know what you guys actually want to read about. :)


Questions? Comments?