Shadowing A Physician Essay Topics

Shadowing, why it is important, and what I gained

When I first started my pursuit of getting into medical school, I didn’t think shadowing was going to be that important—especially as a non-traditional applicant. To be honest, the idea of shadowing sounded silly to me. It reminded me of that middle school “follow your mom to work day.” I was almost convinced that I wouldn’t need to shadow. Luckily, I met with my postbacc advisor in the fall semester of my postbacc year. During my talk with her, I found out that shadowing is a non-spoken requirement. Still skeptical, I inquired further about the shadowing requirement for a non-traditional applicant. After all, I had heard stories that shadowing opportunities were difficult to find—especially for non-traditional applicants. My advisor then shared with me that the strongest post-bacc applicant in the previous year had been rejected from all the medical schools to which he applied because he lacked shadowing experience. Needless to say, that definitely pushed me to seek shadowing experience!

Eventually, I was able to log about 300 hours of shadowing by the time I was ready to submit my application to medical school. Looking back, I know that I benefited from shadowing and those benefits were more than just being able to say I shadowed 300 hours on my AMCAS application.

Here are the five key benefits/takeaways I gained from my own shadowing experience apart from the numbers of hours I was able to log.

I gained two important mentors (and two solid letters of recommendation).

From my experiences as a teacher, I learned that having solid mentors in your field/career is very important. While I know I will make my own mistakes on my path to becoming a doctor, it has been helpful to have mentors who were able to provide me with their insight and advice so I didn’t make the same mistakes they did. At the end of my time with the two physicians, both told me that they would give me strong letters of recommendation for medical school, which was a nice addition to my recommendations package. I am still in touch with both physicians and have been able to get their insight on selecting a school and getting ready for medical school. I anticipate that I will continue my relationships with them throughout medical school and beyond.

I was able to get a glimpse of the realities of being a doctor over a long period of time.

While I also shadowed other specialties for several weeks at a time, I shadowed an internist and a psychiatrist on a weekly basis from January to August. During breaks, I shadowed them more frequently. During this long period of time, I was able to get a better idea of what the realities of being a physician are (at least in rural areas). Due to my extended shadowing time, which led to stronger relationships, I was able to join my physicians for their board meetings and other committee meetings, which further added to my knowledge about the nonmedical responsibilities physicians have.

A longitudinal shadowing experience also allowed me to see the same patients several times during the course of the year. This was really eye-opening, especially in psychiatry, enabling me to see what treatment can and can’t accomplish over an extended period of time and the realities of treating long-term patients.

I was able to manage my expectations of what it meant to be a doctor or specialist. 

After shadowing a pediatrician for a few weeks, I learned that this specialty was completely different from what I anticipated and that I probably did NOT want to be a pediatrician. I had assumed that because I loved working with kids (note: I was a teacher), that I would love being a pediatrician. From what I observed, I don’t think I actually would. Of course, this could change with my rotations in medical school. But I didn’t foolishly write that I could see myself going into pediatrics just because “I love working with kids!” or commit myself to pediatrics when I really knew nothing about it. Expectations are often not aligned with reality.

I had more confidence and evidence to say that I could see myself in the field of medicine and how my own strengths/skills would make me a good doctor.

This goes along with takeaway number three and four. It was much easier to say that I wanted to be a doctor because I was also able to say that I had an idea of what it really was like to be a doctor (or at least some types of doctors). I knew that medicine was not like TV’s  Grey’s Anatomy and I knew that the job wasn’t as “glamorous” as it sometimes is made out to be. (One pediatrician I shadowed saw 10 patients with ear infections and four with sore throats in a single day.) As I continued to shadow, I became more excited about becoming a doctor in spite of some things I saw and my excitement continued to confirm my desire to be a doctor. Shadowing also gave me an idea of where my own strengths/skills and would come into play as a doctor. This was helpful when convincing ADCOMs for medical schools of my medical-related qualities as a future medical student and doctor.

I just learned a lot. Period. 

From looking up different drugs on Epocrates to repeatedly observing a mental status exam or patient history interview, I just learned a lot. While it’s nothing compared with what medical students learn, I got a glimpse of what practicing medicine would be like. Even though I wasn’t a medical student yet, I tried to take advantage of any opportunity to learn, to offer to help when I could, and to ask a lot of questions.

Bottom line:

Shadowing is a key part of your application and evidence that you’ve done the research/homework and you’re still confident that medicine is a field you want to pursue. At every one of my interviews my interviewer and I discussed my shadowing experiences. And, I am sure that without my shadowing, my application would have been much weaker.

About the Author

Z is a graduate of Brown University and a former Teach for America corps member. In her free time, she likes to blog about her experiences as a premed and give her (limited) advice to other premeds and also bore them with stories about her daily life. Z blogs at 5 year journey: medical school edition.


Jessica Freedman MD

JESSICA FREEDMAN, M.D., is president of MedEdits Medical Admissions and author of the MedEdits Guide to Medical Admissions and The Medical School Interview. Follow Dr. Freedman and MedEdits on Facebook and Twitter.

Highlight Your PA Shadowing Experience in your CASPA Personal Statement

How do you know you'll be a good PA unless you've seen one in action?

By shadowing - taking the time to follow a physician assistant through her day to observe what her work is really like.

When we interviewed admissions directors for our book "How to Write Your Physician Assistant Personal Statment" one thing was clear - experience and maturity matter.

Seeing medicine come alive through the example of an experienced practitioner can tell you whether you'll enjoy a medical career, eliminate some of your false assumptions, and perhaps provide you with a mentor or role model you can turn to as your medical education and career begin in earnest.

It will also prove to the admissions committee that you are serious PA school applicant.

13 Personal Statement Expression Examples That Focus on Shadowing

The following phrases provide some variations on the shadowing theme and can be used as a lead in point as you write your physician assistant personal statement.

1. Shoot to Thrill

How to use this in your personal statement:

Have an exciting shadowing experience? Start with an interesting expression, this is a great example, the author begins the statement with "clear the hall" which draws the reader into the story. Don't be afraid to be a little creative. You don't want to be overly dramatic, but a creative use of words can go a long way.

2. Show Insight

How to use this in your personal statement:

When you shadow you gain insights into medicine that only comes with experience. "In oncology you lose 50 percent of your patients". Start your expression with a key insight which highlights your medical knowledge and build from there. It can be subtle, this is a great example.

3. Tell and Show

How to use this in your personal statement: 

You don't always have to be "showy" with your words to be effective. This author starts with a very straightforward statement "through my high school's health professions program..." Then build with a nice transition. This is a great example of simplicity done well

4. Bring Back The Wonder

How to use this in your personal statement:  

Fascinated by medicine? Use a shadowing experience to bring the "wonder" back to the reader.

5. Make the Mundane Meaningful

How to use this in your personal statement:  

It all started when.... It may seem cliche to begin with this type of a transitional element "My career interest in medicine grew out of..." But in this example we are introduced to Thomas Maag and provided with a straightforward account of how his experience taught the author about both the mundane, "HMOs" and meaningful, "human suffering" sides of medicine.

6. Highlight Your Volunteerism

How to use this in your personal statement:  

Have a lot of volunteer experience? Make it a point to mention this in your essay. It can make a nice transition into your time spent shadowing.

7. Mention a Mentor - and how they changed your perception of medicine

How to use this in your personal statement:  

Do you have a PA mentor that has changed your life? "I was floored" is a good place to start. Use power words to begin your sentence from the start to draw readers in.

8. Be an "Insider"

How to use this in your personal statement:  

In this example the author demonstrates an "insider's understanding" of medicine when she states "One elderly woman suffering from dementia threw baleful stares and some choice obscenities at anyone who entered the room." We have all been there. Take a common example of something that represents humans - "beautifully flawed and vulnerable" and share this with the admission committee.

9. Highlight International Experience

How to use this in your personal statement:  

Here is a nice transition into a special shadowing experience overseas. The author uses some nice subtle specifics, such as "in the winter of 2016". This can go a long way to bringing life to your writing.

10. Fill them with Kindness

How to use this in your personal statement:  

"All you need is love"! We all like to be reminded of why we went into the profession to begin with. Show your best intentions and at the same time explain your shadowing experience. This is nicely done here.

11. Personal Trauma Turned "Insight Out"

How to use this in your personal statement:  

Have you experience a trauma you want to touch upon in your essay. This is a great example. The author speak of his "father's death" and uses this as a very simple and extremely subtle transition into his shadowing experience. Awesome!

12. Parental Advice

How to use this in your personal statement:  

Bring together shared experiences - in this example the author hints at her medical heritage when she says: "I gleaned some insights into the profession from my father", and ties this into her shadowing experience.

13. A Touch of Humor

How to use this in your personal statement:  

Humor can be expressed artfully. This is a perfect example!

Time to Review

Take a moment to review these 13 examples and think about how you could implement these techniques into your own essay. Need help? Drop us a line...

*Adapted from Bodine, Paul. Perfect Phrases Series

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The essay should show some level of maturity and understanding about the physician-led PA team. Why does the profession apply to this applicant? Most applicants will have worked with or shadowed a PA. Those experiences are the ones to write about.Dennis Brown, PA-C, MPH, Clinical Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies, Director of Physician Assistant Program at Quinnipiac University.
"Clear the hall!" the nurse shouted as he rushed Xavier, lying pulseless on a stretcher, down the hall to the OR. On only my first day shadowing Dr. Sid Muroda, I watched as a dramatic effort to save a patient's life unfolded. As nurses and clinical technicians prepared the room for Xavier's emergency thoracic surgery, I heard someone shout, "He's been down for nearly three minutes." I looked over at Dr. Muroda, but he just waited calmly for Xavier to be brought to the table.
"In oncology you lose 50 percent of your patients." That is the hard truth Jason Ram, PA-C has been making sure I understand ever since I began shadowing him in 2016. Which half of those "even" odds would the smiling elderly man before me experience I wondered, as Jason and I entered the Atlanta Health Center exam room last summer."
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I watched fascinated as the PAs we were assigned to examined patients' lymph nodes and administered bone marrow tests to determine which stage their cancers had reached. Although most had already progressed to later stages, the PAs did what they could, assigning the patients who could benefit from it to chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
My career interest in medicine grew out of visits to my family physician and her physician assistant, Thomas Maag. He was always happy to answer my questions about medicine, and with his encouragement I began volunteering at a Boulder-area hospital during my senior year. Knowing I needed to get a better idea of what a physician assistant's career is really like, this past December I asked Thomas if I could shadow him at work. He agreed, and for two weeks I accompanied him on 16-hour days as he treated patients and dealt with the challenges of a physician assistant life. Thomas took time to give me the scoop on PA school, HMOs, and the financial side of the PAs career. More importantly, in everything he did, Thomas showed me the deep satisfaction he gains from his work. He also helped me come to terms with the real side of medicine—human suffering.
After my volunteer experiences first sparked my interest in medicine as a career, I explored the profession further by shadowing a neurologist, internist, cardiologist, and radiologist in the Bay Area. I saw the hard work and sacrifice I had expected to see, but I also saw how much patience, compassion, and understanding—traits I had associated with the ministry—defined the healer's role. But it was only when I met Physician Assistant Susan Cornelius, the Klongtuey Center's director, that I realized that choosing between the ministry and medicine was no choice at all...
I was floored. During a health-care convention late last year, a Boston physician assistant admitted to me that my psychology professor at the University of Houston, physician assistant Bary Medin, just might have helped more people day to day then most of the doctors in Houston. Doing clinical work with patients in Houston hospitals in addition to his teaching, Bary helped them cope with the psychological effects of their illnesses. Watching him, I learned that when patients master their minds, they can help heal their bodies. He showed me how an understanding of patient depression and the mental stages of illness can help physicians provide treatment that is specific for each patient. To truly understand and treat patients fully, we must also be able to understand not only their physical illness but also their mental perception of themselves. This is the lesson I will always remember Bary for.
As they made the rounds in Larimer County General's geriatrics ward, the way the PAs I shadowed presented themselves to patients varied widely. One elderly woman suffering from dementia threw baleful stares and some choice obscenities at anyone who entered her room...
I gained more clinical insights by shadowing physician assistant Ralph Tehrani, a cardiology physician assistant, for three weeks in Nairobi, Kenya, in the winter of 2016. By observing him, I saw how PAs and patients interact, and I also witnessed the paradoxes of Kenya's health-care system. Ralph Tehrani's patients at Kenyatta National Hospital were the country's more affluent, but he also volunteered at a primary care clinic in Kibera, providing services to Nairobi's destitute. Although he was a pa specializing in cardiology, he was able to generalize his knowledge because it enabled him to serve a larger segment of people in Kenya's health-care system. My experience shadowing Dr. Tehrani crystallized my motivation to become a physician assistant. As a PA, I also intend to find ways to provide my services to all segments of society, including those who need it most but can afford it least.
What truly fascinated me about physician assistant Steven Goldberg were the memories of Dr. Hashemian that he revived in me through the compassion and caring he showed his tobacco-addicted patients. Through words of reassurance and patient answers to every kind of question, he tried to make them aware of the harm they were inflicting on themselves, yet without ever sounding judgmental. In other words, Steven was not only trying to heal his patients' physical ailments but, like Dr. Hashemian, trying to educate them with kindness. I began to envision myself as a physician assistant like Steven — a PA not only of the physical heart but the emotional one as well.
Whatever misgivings I had about medicine after my father's death were dispelled during my internship at the cardiology department of Austrian Saint George Hospital in St. Louis Missouri, earlier this year. As I followed Christine Barlow PA-C on her daily rounds, Mr. Demiray's bony body, covered with wires and tubes, always caught my eye. Mr. Demiray suffered from myocardial infarction and a failing respiratory system. He couldn't talk, but from the sound he made when he struggled to breathe and the look of defeat and hopelessness in his eyes, I could almost feel his pain....
My interest in medicine has been profoundly affected by Physician Assistant Patricia Capen. Before I met Patricia, I was pursuing a medical career largely because I wanted to apply science in a "meaningful" way—though I wasn't quite sure I knew what that way was. Although I gleaned some insights into the profession from my father, it wasn't until I spent this past summer making rounds at the University of Minnesota Neurosurgery Clinic that I understood the real reason why Patricia and my father had made such a commitment to medicine: they genuinely love what they do. I realized that I was no longer pursuing a career but a passion. And one reason why a physician assistants work doesn't seem like work is the gratitude patients show compassionate and competent PAs.
"Take that to the lab, and let me know what kind of tree it came from!" Physician Assistant Jim Young joked as he handed me a leaf that he had just pulled from the helmet of the motorcyclist lying on the gurney before us. In an instant, the physician assistant jest relaxed everyone in the room, including the patient. I then knew with clarity what being a good PA is all about.

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