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In my personal opinion, besides hands-on participation in an actual clinical setting, this is one of the best extra-curricular activities because it provides you with clinical exposure and stories to talk about in the interview. Also, you can see what medicine and a physician's life are like. You'll also quickly discover if medicine is really for you.

For myself, I can emphatically state that I know that I want to be a physician due to my shadowing experiences. I was asked about my shadowing in the admission interviews and was able to easily answer the question "Why medicine?" due to my shadowing. I was also able to share some of the things I had seen and experienced during shadowing with my interviewers and use them in my personal statement. Shadowing is what convinced me that I wanted to be a physician.

If you are still worried about answering "Why medicine?" - I would suggest doing more shadowing. I would recommend spending a good amount of time to really get to know the physician, the specialty and medicine. Also, if you only spend a few hours shadowing here and there, you really miss part of the experience. So, be sure to spend enough hours shadowing the same physician. Don't forget to enjoy this opportunity to be immersed in a clinical setting while working through the pre-med coursework.

See what successful applicants did for Shadowing.

Setting up Shadowing

Realize that you can set up your shadowing however you like. Some people like to shadow a few hours every week for several weeks or months. I personally preferred spending time with one physician for an entire week in one stretch from Monday through Friday, 8 am - 5 pm to get a better idea of what it's really like. I did my shadowing during the summer when I was out of school for a few weeks, so I could do it this way.

To schedule your shadowing, you just open the local yellow pages, pick the specialty you are interested in shadowing and call any physician's office. Tell the office person that you are a pre-med student at the XYZ University, planning on going to medical school next year (or whenever).

Ask them if Dr. Smith allows students to come into the office to shadow him or her. Typically, they have done this before with other pre-meds and the physician has no problems with this. Tell them what dates you'd prefer to shadow. Usually, the office help will take down your phone number and then call you back later, after asking the physician or office manager.

To follow a surgeon into the operating room, you may have to call the hospital or surgery facility as well. The physician's office would be able to give you this information. Tell the office staff at the physician's office you'd like to follow the surgeon in the office, in the OR and on rounds if possible. They usually know if there are hoops to jump through on your part. For example, I had to watch a video on the "Aseptic Technique" before they would let me into the OR at our local hospital. Some hospitals and facilities have special rules and regulations and may require you to sign some paperwork.

However, when in doubt, remember that the physician you are shadowing is the key to get you into the OR and on the hospital floors. The physician will typically let everyone know that you are with him or her. Most of the time, that's enough justification for your presence.

When Shadowing

This may be obvious, but make sure you are dressed and groomed professionally when shadowing.
If in doubt, overdress for the first day until you can get a feeling for what is acceptable in the office or the physician tells you it's ok to dress down. For men, that should be dress pants, shirt and tie. For women, dresses or professional business attire.

Most of the time, you pretty much just stand back and observe what the physician does without doing anything yourself. Try not to get in the way. After all, that's what shadowing is. Some physicians may involve you to some degree, may let you look in ears, for example, or be part of what they do in some fashion. If so, great. But don't expect too much.

Actively ask questions between patients or when appropriate (perhaps right during a patient visit may be a bad time to quench your own thirst for knowledge). You want plenty of interaction with the physician so the physician can get to know you and sees you are interested in medicine, in patient care, etc. Make sure you ask the physician for a great recommendation letter. Read all about recommendation letters. Don't underestimate the letter and do it right, because there is a right and a wrong way to ask for a letter.

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