Doctor Shadowing – Medicine Applicants Guide 2021

Doctor Shadowing – Medicine Applicants Guide 2021

Colette Tolley
2nd-year Medical Student at University of Oxford
July 19, 2021

What is Doctor shadowing?

Shadowing a Doctor gives you the opportunity to follow them around, see what it is they do, attend team meetings, clinics, ward rounds and more. It is a highly valuable experience and can give a real insight into life as a Doctor. It can be difficult to organise but is truly worth it.

Universities do not all state they require shadowing as they too understand it can be difficult to arrange. But if you do get some, it will strongly support any application made.

However, as of late, some Medical Schools in the UK are not considering doctor shadowing as valid Medical Work Experience. The reasoning is that it can give an unfair advantage to applicants from medical backgrounds (e.g. one of the parents is a senior hospital doctor) for who it is much easier to arrange such a placement. An example of such a Medical School in the UK is Keele. Read this guide on Medical Work Requirements for every Medical School in the UK to learn more.

Our opinion is that this trend is likely to become more popular and doctor shadowing may not be accepted by the majority of UK Medical schools in the future.

Doctor Shadowing – Summary

  • Great opportunity to get medical insight
  • Try all your contacts first (family, school, friends etc.)
  • Contact hospitals and GP surgeries
  • Contact doctors directly
  • Be respectful while on placement
  • Ask a lot of questions
  • Dress smartly
  • Reflect on your experience afterwards 

How to shadow a doctor

Use all contacts available to you: school, family and friends may be able to help put you in direct contact with a Doctor. If none of them are able to help you, check Trust websites for shadowing schemes. However, be prepared for long days and nights of finding some!

You can also contact Doctors or GP practices directly via email, telephone or in-person: provide a CV when contacting them. The most important thing here is to remain professional and treat a shadowing application with the same level of professionalism you would a job application. Presenting your best self will increase the chances of landing an all-important placement.

How to ask to shadow a doctor

Now you got hold of a Doctor’s email address or phone number and you need to get in touch and ask them if they are willing to accept you for a shadowing opportunity. How to do it?

Download this Doctor Shadowing Application Email Template or this Doctor Shadowing Application Call Template so you know what to ask and what to say.

What to do whilst doctor shadowing

The doctor will tell you where to stand or what to do. Try not to disturb the doctor when they are interacting with a patient unless you are asked to come closer or do something else.

Write all your questions and observations down and then you can discuss it with the doctor after they are done with the patient. Remember to be respectful of the doctor and of the patients as well and other healthcare staff if they are present.

  • Ask questions about what you see and about the Doctor’s job, if you want a few to get started with check out our helpful guide on questions to ask here
  • Take notes, write down what you see and how it made you feel
  • Write down anything you’re unsure of to ask about later on
  • Ask about possibility of further shadowing with the Doctor or any other health professionals you meet
  • Dress smartly and be polite to every member of staff

Ward Round Live

Virtual hospital work experience course for students aged 15+

GP Live

Live online GP work experience course for students aged 15+

Medical Summer School–London

Award-winning, 1-week long, in-person medical school preparation course

What to wear when shadowing a doctor

You may have received some specific advice from the Doctor who you’re shadowing. However, if you haven’t, then this guidance ought to have you looking the part in a clinical setting. Simply put, you always need to look smart and presentable.

The British Medical Association (BMA) says that you should “dress in a manner which is likely to inspire public confidence” alongside adhering to the NHS dress code. Inspiring public confidence can be taken to mean dress smartly. This quick list will explain how you should dress when shadowing a Doctor in a hospital or GP surgery:

  • Male or female, you must be bare below the elbow. Wear a smart shirt or blouse.
  • No bracelets or watches.
  • Only one plain wedding band is allowed.
  • Wear smart, comfortable trousers.
  • Comfortable plain black or brown shoes. Leather is recommended as it is hard-wearing and offers your feet some protection.
  • No trainers.
  • A smart jumper or jacket for when you’re not in a clinical setting.
  • If you’re shadowing a surgeon during surgery, you’ll be told what to wear. It’ll usually be scrubs and comfortable shoes if you’re in the operating theatre.

Why do I need to dress smart?

It’s important to recognise that when shadowing a Doctor, patients and members of staff have no reason to view you differently to any other students. How you look and act will reflect directly on the Doctor that has been kind enough to allow you to shadow them and on the trust in which you are doing the shadowing. Hopefully, this makes it clear that it is always extremely important to look smart and professional. 

What to do after shadowing

the most important thing is to reflect on what you learnt, how it made you feel and why it helped you decide on a career in medicine. Alwyas research the answers to any remaining unanswered questions from work experience.

Write down some specific examples you may like to discuss at interview the table below shows how your shadowing experience could be prepared to discuss at interview.

Since reflection is one of the most important parts of your Medicine application, we dedicated it a whole guide. Have a look at our Reflection in Medicine – Medical reflection example guide to learn how to reflect properly.


You may also want to read

Why is online medical work experience great?

Why is online medical work experience great?

Online medical work experience Work experience is a key part of your application to study medicine at universities; you need to have it and then reflect well on it for your personal statement and during an interview.  Organising work experience in a medical setting...

read more
Gibbs Reflective Cycle 

Gibbs Reflective Cycle 

What is reflection Reflection is how we process what has happened to us/around us or because of us. We reflect all the time on things, sometimes without even thinking about them. The Gibbs Reflective Cycle is a tool to help you with reflection. Questions such as why...

read more
GP Work Experience Guide 2021

GP Work Experience Guide 2021

Work experience is an essential part of your medical school application. You will need to talk about it in both your personal statement and in subsequent medical school interviews. By undertaking work experience, you're showing medical schools a level of commitment...

read more

Latest Admissions Advice, Guidance and Tips

Also receive 10% off our courses