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Shadowing (i.e., observing/following a practitioner) is one of the most powerful ways to 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.

If you are a member of a UM pre-health student organization (such as the Pre-Medical Club, Alpha Epsilon Delta Honorary Pre-Health Society, Pre-Student Osteopathic Medical Association, etc.), you should 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 http://uofmhealth.org/find-a-physician, 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 http://cranialacademy.org/find-a-physician/; reach out to ostepathic schools for referrals to alumni in your targeted area; and connect with the closest SOMA chapter.

For more contacts, you can also reach out to the UM Alumni, your primary care physician, your dentist, other health professionals you may know, friends and family.

If you wish to observe patient care and shadow a practitioner, you will likely be required to do 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.

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.