5 Things I Learned From Shadowing a Physician

This summer, I was privileged to spend time shadowing a physician in-clinic for several weeks. As I’ve written before, I’m currently in the process of applying to medical school, and I have benefited so much from shadowing surgeons in the past that I wanted to explore clinical medicine more and work with patients in an internal medicine clinic. I treated this position like an internship – I showed up early, stayed late, dressed professionally, and did homework (more than I thought I would be doing!). Here are some valuable lessons from my experiences this summer in particular that can be applied to any student hoping for a career in the health sciences.


  1. Asking Questions Gets You Answers – The physician I primarily worked with was actually my own primary care physician! The whole position started when I went in earlier in the summer to see her for my physical and updated her about my application to medical school. This application cycle has been quite stressful for me, and I was really looking for a shadowing position where I could remind myself why I wanted to go to medical school in the first place. When she suggested that I shadow her, I was beyond thrilled – I’ve been looking for an internal medicine shadowing position to cement my desire to go into the fields of primary care. I brought a small notebook with me while seeing each patient and jotted down any questions I had about a diagnosis or medications to ask the physicians later. I really benefited from being able to ask questions, and wish I could go back in time to my earlier surgical shadowing opportunities where I was extremely shy and afraid of asking the wrong thing!
  2. Physicians Don’t Act Alone – The clinic I shadowed represented the Internal Medicine division of a large established health group in the Chicagoland suburbs. In short, they were divided into several departments across multiple locations based on anatomy (i.e., heart patients were referred to cardiology, skin concerns were addressed by dermatology). Thanks to the great technology that medical professionals have at their disposal, doctors could look through years and years of patient visits and access all lab tests and other reports that the patient has undergone over their entire life! They use this and communicate with their other physician team members and non-physicians as well, such as nurses, physician assistants, CNAs, and medical assistants , to pull together a wholesome diagnosis and decide upon the best treatment plan for the patient. I really felt like the interdisciplinary health environment that I was part of was just like the pre-health fraternity I am a part of on campus, Alpha Epsilon Delta!
  3. It runs like clockwork – We’ve all had experiences waiting for what feels like hours in the doctor’s office or waiting room, and just thinking that all the healthcare staff are just sitting around doing nothing. Let me tell you – this is absolutely not the case! At the clinic I was working at, practically every minute was scheduled! Every single staff member was actively calling patients, taking vital signs, completing paperwork, and cleaning exam rooms. If a physician was late to an appointment, it was usually because that they were thoroughly addressing the concerns of a previous patient. Some days, my “lunch” was a couple of baby carrots between seeing patients! There really was a sense of urgency that these physicians shared, as no one wanted to keep a patient waiting for an exorbitant amount of time!
  4. Doctor or best friend? – I loved seeing the long-standing relationships that some patients had with their primary care physicians. Some patients have kept the same doctor for over ten years, and it was great to see patients and doctors catch up like they were old friends. I remember giving my own pediatrician practically a tearful good-bye when I “graduated” to Internal Medicine after turning 18. I’ve noticed that when the doctor and patient have been friends for years, the visit is more like a gab session between high school friends instead of a formal office clinician practicing excellent bedside manner for a sick person. These friendly reunions stand out in my mind so much because not only did the patient’s concerns get addressed and treated properly, but the visit didn’t seem to feel like 45-60 minutes of dragging time, but was so much more enjoyable for all parties involved. I wouldn’t feel the need to down a cup of coffee, but would be so much more invigorated and really to see the next patient!
  5. Doctors are people too! – This is a concept that I’m still working with. I’ve always viewed doctors as superheroes – protecting the health of society while healing me of my sore throat/ear infection/et cetera. Yet, the closer I am to medical school, the more I’ve learned that doctors are humans too! They are not immune to the common cold, or picking up their sick kids from school early, or waiting for a vacation that they’ve been planning all year! They start their own families and raise pets and have favorite foods too! One day at the clinic, a surprise baby shower was thrown for one of our nurses, and I loved watching some of the doctors pig out on pink cupcakes and nacho cheese dip! Physicians are real people, just like me!


Yesterday was my last day in the clinic until Thanksgiving Break, and I’m really going to miss seeing patients and asking the physicians for advice. I am happy to say that my shadowing experiences have really solidified my goals to become a Primary Care Physician. But first, let’s get through this upcoming semester, right?!






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