Lessons I learned from my Clinical Experiences
During undergrad, pre medicine students have the opportunity to volunteer and shadow physicians. You may think they are both the same thing, however, I will explain the differences below. I will also integrate what lessons I learned when I did clinical experiences in undergrad.
Make sure it will give you clinical exposure: The point of shadowing a doctor is to see them work in a clinical setting. Therefore, your shadowing experience must allow you to see how physicians interact with patients. It doesn’t matter which one you decide on doing, just make sure it interests you.
Here are some list of volunteering and shadowing ideas:
– Medical Scribe
– Red cross
– Abroad volunteering experience
– Physician Assistant
– Study Abroad shadowing experiences( these separate you from the rest of the applicants. On every medical school interview, internship opportunities, or any job; I have always been asked about studying abroad)
Visit your premedical advisor to obtain a list of common volunteering and shadowing opportunities in the area.
Keep a record of information regarding each experience. For example, keep track of contact information, phone numbers, addresses, service hours and date range. This will help you organize your extracurricular activities when you start to apply to medical school.
Do not be afraid to reach out to your network or make cold calls: The hardest part of shadowing a physician is finding a physician to shadow. The best way to find a physician is by reaching out to your network. Ask your friends, parents, classmates and teachers to see if they know a physician who would welcome the idea of shadowing. If that does not work, you need to search for physicians yourself and make phone calls. A majority of physicians are open to the idea of shadowing; they have been in your situation and are eager to help a future doctor, but you have to be proactive. A shadowing opportunity is not going to magically appear in front of you.
Try to schedule full days of shadowing: It is important that you see all that a physician does, not just when he or she has exciting patients and cases. Shadowing a physician for a full day will allow you to truly see the daily life of a doctor.
Dress professionally: Although you probably will not be interacting with patients, you will still be in the same room with patients. Therefore, it is important that you dress appropriately to help maintain the professionalism of the clinic. Some doctors will tell you to wear scrubs and some will tell you to dress up business casual.
After the shadowing experience is over, send a thank you note. This is important because they are providing their own time for you to shadow them. This also demonstrates that you are professional and considerate. Giving them a physical note is more meaningful than an email because they have something tangible to hold on to. Whereas, an email will just sit in their inbox and just end up at bottom.
Reflect on your experience. Be mindful of what you learn and see everyday of volunteering or shadowing. This will help you when you apply to medical school or even writing your personal statement.
For a pre-med, shadowing can be a great learning experience. However, you must not be afraid to ask questions. If something confuses you, jot it down in your notebook and remember to ask the physician after he or she finishes the day’s rounds. Physicians usually love when eager students ask them about their job.
Ask for a recommendation letter promptly after finishing your shadowing rotation a few times: An important factor in a medical school application is the recommendation letters. If you desire a recommendation letter from the physician you shadowed, make sure to ask him or her immediately after you complete your commitment. If you ask for the recommendation years later, the physician might no longer remember you well enough to write a respectable letter.
Photo is from shadowing a podiatric surgeon during surgery