Tips on setting up shadowing #

Help! How can I find a healthcare professional to shadow? Here are some tips!

Finding a healthcare provider to shadow can be challenging. It takes just a little persistence and an investment of time in planning ahead. Below we offer tips that have worked for many IU students!

To be successful, approach this task much like looking for a job. Just as when beginning a job search, we recommend that you start by writing a brief letter of introduction about yourself that you can send out to healthcare providers. After sending your letter, it’s very important that you follow up with a phone call to their offices. Your goal is to introduce yourself in a professional manner so your request to shadow will have some credibility.

Also, remember to use your informal networks. Try any contacts you already know – your own family physician, family dentist, family optometrist. You could also try to contact any physicians who have treated you or family members in the past. If a relative or friend works in a hospital, ask if they may be able to help you make contacts too.

Tips on creating shadowing letter of introduction #

Here are tips on creating a letter of introduction and following up to set up shadowing:

  • First, sit down and write one good, serious paragraph about yourself, your goals and interest in healthcare. Information you could decide to include: where you are from, how you got interested in healthcare, where you have already shadowed or volunteered, your academic interests, where you go to college, your major, and other interests. If you find that you have enough for a second good paragraph about yourself, write another one.

  • Now, draft a letter of introduction or “cover letter” and incorporate the paragraph you’ve written about yourself into it. Use proper business letter formatting for this letter, including a salutation and closing. If you have never written a business letter before, the IU Career Development Center provides some great resources to help you get started. Consult the info at this link:

In the first sentence, state that you are writing to ask for the opportunity to shadow. Then incorporate the paragraph(s) you wrote about yourself into the body of the letter.

In the closing paragraph provide some information on the best ways to make contact with you and your availability. Thank the health professional for considering your request.

  • This step is optional, but you may want to include a resume with the letter you are sending. If you’ve never created a resume, the Career Development Center provides some great resources to help you get started. Consult the link at Sample resumes are provided at that link as well.

  • Now that you have a good draft of a letter of introduction, you are ready to take the next steps of getting it ready to send out. Now you will need to do some research and identify the health professionals you would like to shadow. Look for listings of physicians/healthcare providers that interest you in the area where you are seeking shadowing opportunities. We recommend that you especially focus on seeking out professionals outside of Bloomington or in your hometown during breaks, since you may find more providers are available. Check the websites of hospitals for listings of their affiliated physicians.

  • Make a list of all the health professionals you’ve selected to contact with their addresses and contact information. It’s best not to just write to one healthcare provider and then wait for a response. You’ll probably not get a response from every person you contact. We’d recommend writing to five or ten contacts – you may need to try an even higher number. If you write to ten healthcare providers, it’s likely that two or three will allow you to shadow.

  • If you wish, you can try to target physicians who work in particular specialty areas that interest you. However, shadowing a regular family physician will give you plenty of exposure to the variety of situations that a doctor encounters. Eventually, it can be very rewarding to shadow physicians in a wide variety of specialties and work settings in order to gain more breadth in your exposure to medicine.

  • You may wish to personalize each letter further. For instance, if you are interested in learning about a particular specialty area that is the doctor’s specialty, in your letter you can explain a little about why you are interested in learning about that area.

  • The next step is to finalize all your letters. While it’s sometimes possible to send your letter by email, often a postal letter is going to be the best way to reach healthcare providers, and it may create a more professional impression. For postal letters, include the name and address of each physician in proper business format, print out your letters and business envelopes to go with them, sign the letters and then head to the post office and mail them off.

  • Then – and this is a very important step – after you mail your letters wait about a week and if you have not heard back from them, politely call each provider’s office. This is a very important step! When you call, introduce yourself to the receptionist. You can say, “I sent a letter to the doctor, and I was calling now to follow up and see if she/he had received it.” Explain that you would be very interested in shadowing if the provider would have time. When you call be polite, mature, and professional.

  • Because you have introduced yourself professionally by first writing a formal letter, you are likely to get a better response this way than if you just call without introducing yourself formally prior to calling.

  • You should also check with hospitals and medical clinics in your area to see if they have an office that does placement for shadowing. Most hospitals do not place students for shadowing, but some will. Don’t just wait for someone to place you for shadowing though. The key is to be proactive and try to contact many physicians and then follow up by making contact again. It really works.

  • Start this process several weeks or even months in advance of when you would like to shadow. It can take weeks to set up shadowing so you should begin this process early.

  • If a health professional only has time to allow you to shadow for an afternoon – take it! Most students only get the opportunity to shadow a doctor for a day at a time. By accumulating a day here and there with different providers in different specialty areas, you can gain very significant experience and exposure to diverse aspects of healthcare. Cumulative experience is what counts!

  • Before you shadow, familiarize yourself with HIPPA and privacy regulations. The following website provides excellent resources, including a powerpoint that you should review: The hospital or doctor’s office where you shadow will probably also provide you information and require you to sign a confidentiality agreement.

  • When you show up to shadow, present yourself in a professional manner. Dress professionally and be respectful of the patients who are allowing you to observe.

  • Be considerate and sensitive to the needs of the patients who are being treated, just as you would want someone to be considerate to you if a bystander were in the room watching your own interactions with your doctor. Follow the healthcare provider’s lead and ask what guidelines you should follow. Shadowing is an opportunity for you to develop professionalism.