Objectives of Shadowing

A shadowing experience provides an important opportunity to learn valuable information about your chosen health profession and will help you discern whether it is the right fit for you. In order to get the most out of your “shadowing” experience and learning what it’s like to be a physician, dentist, or other health care professional, you need to learn not only what the professional with whom you’ll be spending time does all day, but also how he or she:

  • Organizes the day
  • Allows time for the unexpected
  • Stays current in the profession
  • Addresses uncertainty
  • Integrates personal and professional life

There’s a lot to learn, both from the professional and from the patients, as well as from the patients’ families (or their owners if you’re spending time with a veterinarian). Experienced health care professionals know that patients and families are important teachers. A long—and hopefully leisurely—conversation about the above matters with the person whom you are shadowing can add to the experience. Most professions appreciate the opportunity to reflect and teach. The broad question is: “What did I learn?” I suggest that, among other activities during this experience, you consider these questions:

What did I learn from this transaction with the patient about:

  • The patient’s illness
  • What’s going on in the patient’s life that may have importance in dealing with the illness
  • The doctor-patient relationship
  • The importance of spending enough time
  • The importance of engaged listening without interruption
  • How the doctor reasons and makes decisions
  • What did I learn, not only about the patient, but from the patient?
  • What did the patient teach me?
  • What did I learn about what it’s really like to be a doctor?

We recommend that you keep a journal of your experiences and reflections. Journaling is not only a way to record facts and feelings, but also is an important step in becoming a reflective doctor, a valuable quality. I also suggest that you show these guidelines to the person(s) whom you are shadowing, so that you can have shared goals. Please feel free to contact your health professions advisor for additional help during this experience.