Embarking on a journey into the medical field requires more than just academic prowess. A crucial element of your application that showcases your commitment to the field of medicine is having active clinical experience and experience shadowing one or multiple physicians. A shadowing experience will help you gain a realistic view of what an average day looks like for a physician. 

But how many shadowing hours do you need for medical schools? Join us as we unravel the intricacies of medical school shadowing requirements, the benefits of shadowing a doctor, how to make the most out of your shadowing hours, and more. 

What is Shadowing?

Shadowing refers to the practice of observing a physician in action as they provide care, treat and interact with patients, and work with a healthcare team. By shadowing a physician, you’ll be able to gain insight into their day-to-day activities and responsibilities in their practice.

While shadowing for many medical schools is an optional extracurricular, shadowing a physician can increase your chances of being accepted at a broad range of medical schools. Remember that even if a medical school doesn’t have a set requirement for shadowing, admissions committee members might question if you’ve thoroughly researched whether becoming a physician is right for you. 

How Many Shadowing Hours Are Required for Medical School?

While some schools have a minimum requirement of 24 or 40 shadowing hours, we suggest aiming for around 100 shadowing hours before applying for medical school. Keep in mind that a doctor’s shift can be from eight to ten hours, so you can distribute your shadowing hours across multiple shifts or explore more medical specialties. 

Some medical schools stand out for the high number of shadowing hours they require – up to 120, 150, and 200. Therefore, check the shadowing and clinical experience requirements of the medical schools you’re interested in. Requirements for the shadowing hours also change depending on the region. For example, many schools in North America may have a minimum requirement for shadowing hours, whereas schools in Canada don’t have any requirements for shadowing hours. 

While the number of shadowing hours is essential, medical schools also emphasize the quality of shadowing experiences. Therefore, do not spread yourself too thin; you don’t want to overcommit and underperform. It would be best to do less than 500 shadowing hours as it can affect other equally essential components of your medical application, such as preparing for the MCAT and gaining clinical experience.  

How Many Shadowing Hours Are Required for Medical School

Benefits of Shadowing a Doctor:

1. Insight into medical practice

Shadowing a physician is an excellent opportunity to gain insight into the realities of medical practice. While movies and TV series show the action-packed side of being a doctor, in reality, being a doctor also involves dealing with insurance companies and a lot of paperwork. Through shadowing, you’ll get a glimpse of how your life as a doctor will look like. As you shadow, you’ll also gain first-hand exposure to the daily tasks, responsibilities, and rewards of doctors. Moreover, you’ll witness how doctors interact with patients, make diagnoses, provide treatments, and deliver bad news. Lastly, you’ll also gain insight into teamwork within healthcare settings.  

2. Clinical exposure

When applying to medical schools, it’s imperative that you participate in activities where you’ll have direct interaction with patients and have first-hand experience in a medical setting. Clinical exposure is essential during shadowing as it allows you to observe doctors and other healthcare professionals in action and understand the challenges of patient care. Moreover, through clinical exposure, you’ll be able to observe a wide range of medical procedures, thus understanding the technical skills and teamwork involved during a procedure.

Clinical exposure also allows you to witness how doctors interact with patients and address their health concerns with compassion. This way, you’ll develop bedside manners and gain insight into how to utilize communication skills and active listening to deliver high-quality patient care. 

3. Witness professionalism and ethical decision-making

Shadowing experiences give you valuable lessons in professionalism and ethics by exposing you to real-world situations where applying these principles is crucial. Through shadowing, you’ll observe how doctors and other healthcare professionals conduct themselves and how they interact with patients with respect and empathy. You’ll witness how doctors utilize effective communication strategies to establish rapport and build trust with their patients. Furthermore, you’ll learn how to maintain professional boundaries and appropriate conduct in doctor-patient relationships.

As a doctor, you may have to make difficult decisions and face ethical dilemmas. Through shadowing, you’ll observe how doctors navigate complex situations and make decisions while prioritizing the well-being of their patients.

4. Understanding specialty choices

Another crucial benefit of shadowing is that it can help you make informed decisions about your preferred medical field by providing first-hand exposure to different clinical settings and specialties. By observing different areas of patient care and medical procedures, you can identify which specialty resonates with your interests, passion, and career aspirations. For example, you may be interested in pursuing pediatrics, but after spending time in internal medicine, it appeals to you more. 

Therefore, we strongly recommend shadowing multiple doctors of different specialties to explore various areas within the healthcare field and narrow down your career interests. Moreover, you’ll be able to envision in which areas you can make meaningful contributions as a doctor. 

5. Networking opportunities

Engaging in shadowing also gives you networking opportunities with medical professionals. You can establish meaningful relationships by interacting with them, resulting in mentorship and research opportunities. Connections with healthcare professionals can be instrumental in guiding your future career paths and opening doors for further opportunities. 

Moreover, networking and building relationships with healthcare professionals provides them with the opportunity to witness your dedication to learning and genuine commitment to caring for patients. This rapport positions physicians or other healthcare professionals perfectly for providing a letter of recommendation for your medical school application. Remember, medical schools seek out well-rounded applicants with strong potential for a future in medicine.

How to Make the Most of Your Shadowing Hours?

As you begin your shadowing experience, you’ll want to make the most out of it by absorbing as much information and asking as many questions as possible. Here are some tips to implement that will help you gain valuable insights to support your journey toward a career in medicine.

Make sure to take notes of any questions you want to ask the doctor, medical terminology, or any confusing topic to research later. Moreover, taking notes lets you track moments or events you want to discuss in your medical school application.

You must demonstrate enthusiasm and interest when shadowing a physician. Therefore, actively participate in the learning process by asking questions and seeking learning opportunities. As the goal of shadowing is to give you first-hand insights into the daily tasks of physicians, don’t hesitate to ask questions to clarify your understanding of the medical procedures, diagnoses, and treatment. However, make sure to ask questions in between patients or when the physician is free to answer your questions. You can also seek learning opportunities by offering to help the healthcare team, if appropriate and allowed. 

Lastly, professionalism is vital to healthcare, so be friendly and respectful to patients, their families, and healthcare professionals. Moreover, follow hospital protocol and adhere to the instructions of hospital professionals. 

Bottom Line

Shadowing is an excellent opportunity to determine if a medical career is right for you. You’ll get to witness doctors and other healthcare professionals in action and learn from them how to diagnose and treat patients as well as how to conduct yourself as a doctor. Shadowing is also a great way to explore different specialties and find where your true passion lies. Furthermore, you get to meet outstanding doctors and healthcare professionals and build meaningful relationships with them. 

Besides being a crucial component of your growth as an aspiring physician, shadowing is critical to your medical school application. Therefore, we suggest aiming at 100-150 shading hours in different specialties. So, get a head start on your medical school application and contact a doctor to shadow today!

Frequently Asked Questions:

Does online shadowing count?

Online or virtual shadowing has become a common medical school extracurricular, with most medical schools accepting it and considering it no different from in-person shadowing. This is due to technological advancements and new challenges, such as COVID-19, that prevented students from attending in-person shadowing. 

Does scribing count as shadowing?

Becoming a medical scribe is a great way to gain clinical experience; however, it is different from shadowing. As a medical scribe, you’ll have a much more involved role than only following physicians and observing them as they see patients. You’ll document the patient encounter by noting complaints and histories, as well as physical exams, assessments, and treatment plans from the physician. 

Is 20 shadowing hours enough?

Each medical school has its criteria and preferences when evaluating applicants, so the number of required shadowing hours varies. There are medical schools that require about 20 shadowing hours, while there are some schools that require up to 200 shadowing hours. However, we suggest aiming for more than 20 shadowing hours to showcase your dedication and commitment. 

When should I start shadowing a doctor?

Finding and contacting doctors to shadow takes a considerable amount of time. Therefore, we suggest starting a shadowing experience as early as you can. You can do that during your sophomore year of undergraduate studies to avoid shadowing hours affecting your clinical experience commitments.