Shadowing a health professional and volunteering in a health care setting are great ways to find your interests! Furthermore, these experiences are essential for many health professional graduate school applications.
Finding the right experiences takes an enormous amount of effort, and you won’t get paid for your time. But the experience you’ll gain will be invaluable.
Although most types of volunteer work are valuable experiences, volunteering in health care settings is also rewarding. Consider the type of setting you want to work in (hospital ER, hospice, rehabilitation center, etc.) and the type of health professional you want to observe (nurse, doctor, therapist, etc.). Treat your volunteer commitments like a real job: be on time, professional, seek out mentors and gather references for a letter of evaluation (which you’ll need later when you apply to health professional graduate programs).
Health professional graduate schools strongly encourage students to validate their interests by spending time observing (shadowing) the day-to-day life of health professionals in their field of interest. Shadowing helps students:
- observe the relationships between health professionals and patients
- develop an understanding of the working lives of health professionals
- discover and evaluate their interests in health professions
How to Find a Shadowing Experience
Step One: Make a list
Make a list of what you’d be willing to do in your Shadowing experience. How far would you travel? When are you available to shadow? What are you curious about learning in this field?
Make a list of any doctor you’ve ever come in contact with that would possibly be able to help you. First, never rule anyone out — your family doctor, your neighbor back home’s doctor, the doctor you baby-sit for, the optometrist you visited once because you had a coupon, the doctor who has an ad on the back of your church’s newsletter, etc. Secondly, ask everyone you know if they’d be willing to give you names or help you get connected with a doctor. The Career Advancement Center maintains a database of alumni who you might want to contact. Lastly, use the internet. These may seem like crazy places to look but YOU NEVER KNOW what you might come up with!
Step Two: Ask for the Shadowing Experience
Be ready to discuss your interest in shadowing. The more prepared you are to speak to the professionals you reach out to, the more easily they can assist you.
Work on developing a brief “script” that explains who you are and what your shadowing interests are.
Be prepared to hear “NO.” Try to assess the situation to see if they’d be willing to have a ONE-TIME meeting to discuss their field. You could ask them for an Informational Interview or Networking Conversation. You could even ask them to suggest a name of someone else to call!
Step Three: Interview for the Shadowing Experience
Even though the shadowing experience is unpaid and you will not receive course credit, you should still treat your interview as formal. If your shadowing experience goes well, your mentor can often provide the most compelling letter for your graduate school application. In some cases, shadowing positions can turn into internships. Dress professionally, bring your resume, turn off your phone, and arrive 10 minutes early.