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How do I find a doctor who would be willing to let me shadow them?

Asked 2 years ago by Guest (120 points)

I am a freshman pre-medical student attending school at the University of Central Florida. I recently began volunteering at the Nemours Children's Hospital in the surgical unit as I hope to become a pediatric surgeon or neurosurgeon.
Based on the advice of my counselor, I was hoping I would have some form of interaction with the surgeons and perhaps be able to ask them to allow me to shadow them. However, I rarely see surgeons where I volunteer (post-op recovery) and there aren't any other areas that would allow me more access to them.
I don't know any surgeons or doctors I can shadow in my area. I am really worried about gaining a competitive amount of shadowing hours before I apply to medical schools.
Do you have any suggestions on how to find a doctor that would be willing to let me shadow them? Do they require certain classes to be taken before shadowing? How would be the best way to approach them?
Any help would be greatly appreciated!

// Answers //

Answered 2 years ago by mark-ER (6700 points)

Shadowing docs is a good idea, though shadowing neurosurgeons while an undergrad, may be too much too early.  I have heard of undergrads who do physiology/joint experiments shadow orthopods, or general surgeons or even OB/Gyn, but cardiothorasic and neurosurg is typically off limits to undergrads.  You have to know how to scrub in, know these cases in & out to get anything out of the shadowing experience.  These are typically very intense procedures, with a lot at state, where time under anesthesia is carefully accounted for and there is less time to teach or grasp complicated concepts even for residents, or medical students, much less undergrads.  

What I would recommend instead, if you are truly interested in peds/neurosurg, is to shadow a pediatric neurologist or a pediatric geneticist with interest in neurological diseases.  Peds docs are generally more amendable to be shadowed, are generally quite friendly and responsive to a request for teaching.  Some might even let you come in and with some preparation to a brief SOAP note as/before they are seeing the patient -- perhaps with a resident (?), a useful experience and something to talk about during med school interviews.  

My approach to this would be to look for a residency program in pediatric neurology in your area, and email the program director asking to point you to a doc who would be amendable to having an undergraduate with an interest in neuroscience (don't say anything about neurosurgery, at least an the outset) to shadow you.

Oh and a few tips for shadowing:  be humble, be on time (which means early) and be very careful/gentle in attempts to help/chime in with answers.  Medicine has some things in common with the military hierarchy in this aspect -- speak when spoken to, and generally it is best to stay out of the way.  It is better not to be remembered, or thought of as bland/unoffensive, than overeager/annoying or a know-it-all.  Please remember, you know next to nothing at this point, and if you happen to know some esoteric factoid, do not chime in obtrusively, to avoid to be perceived to overshadow senior trainees like med students/residents.  Again, not necessarily directed at the original poster, but rather to other ambitious undergrads who might be reading this reply further on down the line.

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