Shadowing (i.e., observing/following a practitioner) can help you understand what health professionals really do, where they do it, what challenges they face, etc. Through multiple shadowing experiences your goal is to become familiar with:

  • the nature and rhythms of health professionals’ practices
  • the types of patients and issues they see
  • the internal and external factors impacting their day
  • their interaction with other health care practitioners
  • their quest to stay current in their field
  • their ability to integrate their professional roles as researchers, clinicians, and/or academicians as applicable
  • their ability (and struggle!) to reconcile their professional roles with the demands of their personal life.

However, shadowing opportunities may not always be readily available.  In a survey of medical school admissions officers conducted by the AAMC, 87% of survey respondents indicated that they accept an alternate activity instead of clinical shadowing.  Here are five alternatives cited by admissions officers as other ways medical school applicants have gained clinical exposure and demonstrated the necessary skills sought in future doctors.

If you are a member of a UM pre-health student organization, you might be able to tap into the networks of those particular groups to find practitioners willing to let you shadow them.

The UM Health System website lists all physicians who practice at UM, their clinical and research interests, and their backgrounds. Just go to, find a specialty in which you are interested, and send physicians a brief but professional email.  In this communication, introduce yourself and your professional goals, and express your desire to learn more about them and their specialty through informational interviewing and, possibly, shadowing.

To connect with osteopathic (DO) physicians, go to; reach out to osteopathic schools for referrals to alumni in your targeted area; and connect with the closest SOMA chapter.  Also, the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) membership office maintains an online national directory of practicing DOs, some of whom may have indicated an interest in having prospective osteopathic medical students shadow them.  See more tips for shadowing a DO and learning about Osteopathic Medicine.

For more contacts across all the health professions, you can also reach out to the UM Alumni, your primary care physician, your dentist, other health professionals you may know, friends and family.  Occasionally--but not necessarily--shadowing opportunities may materialize as a result of connections made via UCAN, UM University Career Alumni Network.  Note, however, that the main goal of UCAN is to provide alumni connections for informational interviewing.

If you wish to observe patient care and shadow a practitioner, you will likely be required to complete some training and sign a statement to signify your commitment to respecting patients’ privacy, not to get directly involved with their care, etc. These set of rules are referred as HIPAA laws, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

While hospitals are usually set up to accommodate shadowing and offer in-house HIPAA training, many health professionals in solo or small practices are not.  So, if you have reached out to physicians/practitioners who have not been involved in shadowing before but are willing to accommodate you, you may wish to refer them to the resources made available by the American Academy of Family Physicians, which include HIPAA training materials and forms that they can use for shadowing in their office.  Regardless of the type of practice, these materials can be easily modified.  See also AAMC Guidelines for Clinical Shadowing Experiences for Students.

Finally, during the pandemic, some new opportunities for virtual shadowing became available.  See these blog entries for information on some of the better virtual shadowing programs and tips on blending in-person with virtual shadowing experiences. Understand that even if virtual shadowing continues to remain an option post-pandemic, it cannot be relied on as the sole means of gaining the necessary exposure and experience for medical school admission.