Shadowing Etiquette

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Shadowing is something that is recommended for most programs, and required by some.  If you are possibly considering PA school, I recommend shadowing at least some to see if it's really what you want to do.  It's easy to read about what a Physician Assistant is and see all of the awesome articles about how it's ranked as one of the best jobs, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's for you.  Shadowing will also help you when it comes to interviewing and answering questions that address what a PA does and how a PA is different than a physician.

So once you've found some places that will let you come spend some time with them, you definitely want to be a good guest!  That will help you to get a good letter of recommendation (LOR), get more hours at that location, or possibly get them to connect you to some colleagues that may be able to help you out.

Don't be afraid to ask questions before you go in!  If you're shadowing in a hospital there may be some clearance stuff with HR that you need to do to even be allowed to be there.  It's perfectly fine to ask general questions, like when and where they want you to report and what you should wear.  (When in doubt, go with business casual.)  It may sound harsh, but a PA is unlikely to wait around for you when they have a schedule of patients to see, so do your best to be where you need to be on time.  As a PA, we know that this is for your good, so don't feel like you have to impress the PA you're shadowing.  You want to make a good impression (for possible future LOR), but we want you to learn and see if this job would be a good fit for you.

Know the basics of HIPAA.  This is basically the healthcare rules that are in place to protect patient's privacy.  It's kind of common sense, but if you've never been in a clinical setting you may not know how serious these are.  Basically all of the patient's personal information and anything you may see is private and you should not talk about it with anyone other than the person you're shadowing or other related healthcare staff.  And if you recognize a patient's name as someone you know, it's perfectly fine for you to say you don't feel comfortable seeing them in a medical setting.  And then make sure not to share the details of that encounter with anyone who may also know the person.  It can be really easy to slip up and go "Oh, I saw so-and-so's dad the other day," or something like that, but the patient may be seen for something that is not public knowledge and it's their right to maintain that privacy.

When you show up to shadow, it's a good idea to bring something to take notes, something to do if there's some downtime, and any questions you may have.  Sometimes there are some slow days (like the one I had yesterday), and it stinks that you may not get to see many patients, but that gives you a great opportunity to ask questions about PA stuff.

When you're seeing patients, feel free to ask your preceptor questions when you've left the room.  This will show that you were paying attention and that you are actually interested in being there.  If there's something you don't understand or didn't catch what the diagnosis was, just ask!  And again, don't feel like you have to impress the PA, obviously you are there to shadow because you want to become a PA, so we want you to learn.

Before you leave, make sure to get some contact info (phone number, e-mail) in case you have any questions or need a letter of recommendation in the future.  Also keep a very good log of your hours including where you shadowed, what specialty you were in, how many hours, and anything cool you saw.  This will come in handy for the CASPA application or other applications.

Last, but not least, whenever you are a PA and students call looking to shadow, don't forget that you were in their shoes at one point trying to find shadowing sites too.

Share any tips you have for shadowing below!