/ Career Development Center

Clinical Shadowing

Every health profession school and program expects that you will have practical experience through observation, shadowing, volunteering or direct patient contact hours.

Clinical shadowing, therefore, should be a top priority of your undergraduate experience. It’s best to start clinical shadowing the summer after your freshman year. Beginning early will allow you to:

  • Gain exposure to different types of health-related careers
  • Identify the skills and knowledge you need to be successful
  • Build a network of professional contacts to learn about the field and what their life is like
  • Begin to understand how you will contribute to the health care field
Before Your Experience
  • Make arrangements and clearly understand all information, including the name of the person you will be shadowing, where to arrive, and expected start and end times
  • Dress professionally and do not be distracting; if you’re unsure of what to wear, clarify with the your contact
  • Avoid wearing perfume, cologne or strong-smelling soap or body wash
  • Find out in advance if you need to have any TB tests, flu shots or other medical requirements
  • Find out in advance if you need any professional orientation such as HIPPA, blood-borne pathogen training or other requirements
  • Take time to research the organization online or via their marketing materials so you know the services they provide and career field of the person you are shadowing
During Your Experience
  • Arrive early: You may be required to sign a HIPAA confidentiality agreement or other documents.
  • If you’re exposed to patients’ private feelings, actions or records, these must be kept confidential both inside and outside the hospital or health care setting. Do not discuss what you observe with friends, classmates or family, or post to social media.
  • Observe, take mental notes and ask questions when appropriate (often afterward).
  • Be open to new opportunities and do not limit yourself, even if you are absolutely sure of your career direction. Shadowing gives you a chance to explore new options without committing yourself.
  • Be respectful of everyone you interact with, not just the person you are shadowing.
  • Ask for and document the job title, degrees, phone number and email of those you observed for future reference.
After Your Experience
  • Within 24–48 hours, write and send a thank you note to each person who helped you. A handwritten note is preferred, but email is acceptable; in either format, be grammatically correct and timely.
  • A personal record of your shadow experiences will save you a lot of time and headaches when filling out future applications.
  • Reflect on your thoughts, feelings and what you learned about yourself as it relates to the profession. Document your thoughts while they’re fresh in your mind.


The Career Development Center, working with a health professions advisor, can help identify potential organizations and contacts. However, arranging a clinical shadow opportunity and fulfilling observation hours for graduate admittance is the student’s responsibility. For help identifying potential experiences, call the Career Development Center.

If you prefer to create your own opportunities:

  • Your own personal network is often the best place to start. Ask your parents, aunts, uncles, etc. if they know someone you could shadow.
  • Ask your family physician, pediatrician, dentist, physical therapist, etc. if you could shadow them, or if they know someone you might be able to shadow. Ask for a period of four hours or less; do not ask again unless they invite you.


Ask for an opportunity to shadow over the phone, through email or in person. When reaching out, convey your name, year in school, major, purpose and sincere interest in the field, and contact information. Keep emails brief (four or five sentences). Clinicians are busy and usually have little time to read long emails or listen to long voicemail messages. Succinct and professional communication with a resume attached often receive a response.


SUBJECT: Shadowing Opportunity – Request from a Hope College Student

Dear Dr. [Name Here],

My name is [Name Here] and I am a [Class Standing] studying [Major] at Hope College. I am also a pre-health track student, specifically [list pre-health track], and am currently looking for opportunities to gain exposure to the profession through shadowing. I am especially interested in learning more about being a [Name type of clinician]. Would you, or any one you know, be open to allowing me to shadow for a few hours (no more than four)? I appreciate your consideration and have attached my resume for more information on my clinical and academic experiences. Please feel free to contact me by email or [Phone]. I look forward to hearing from you.


[Full Name]