Shadowing Etiquette


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!

Listen to the accompanying podcast episode now! 

How to Get Shadowing Hours


It's become a huge requirement for most programs to have a good amount of shadowing hours.  The number I see thrown around the most is 100, but some programs do not have a specific number while others want even more than that.  I think shadowing is important because it lets you get a good idea of a what a PA does in a typical day, because while we talk about all of the fun stuff a lot, there's more involved (paperwork, late patients, no shows).  It can be very difficult and frustrating trying to find people that will let you come follow them around for a little while.  Most of the schools want you to directly shadow PAs (not physicians) and want a few different areas as well, so keep this in mind when looking for places to shadow.

As a provider now, I do understand that with a busy schedule it can be difficult to think about having someone that could potentially slow you down.  After having someone with me that my SP knew for a whole week, it was actually a lot of fun having someone to teach and asking questions.  It made me think a little and also made me feel more confident about what I know.  So that's my little aside to encourage current PAs to let students shadow, and to give students a little insight to why everyone doesn't say yes right away.

1. Use your connections.

Think about people you know and who might be able to help you get in touch with people.  This could be your parent's friends that work at doctor's offices or hospitals or doctors you have gone to for a long time.  Don't be scared to reach out to people you haven't been in contact with in a while because this is important for your future and the worst thing that happens is they say no!  Personally, while in undergrad I remembered that one of the teachers at my high school had a daughter who went to PA school, so I awkwardly sent her a Facebook message, but she was willing to talk to me and gave me some very valuable information!

2.  Use your resources - internet and the phone book

This is another example of the worst thing that can happen is someone saying no.  Get the phone book out or search your area and call places and ask if they have a PA and if they have students shadow.  I did this while I was in Athens at UGA, and out of everywhere I called one place said yes and 2 asked for my resume (which I thought was weird).  I ended up shadowing in dermatology under an awesome PA once a week and it was totally worth all the cold calls and awkward conversations.

Also check hospital websites and see if they have a shadowing program.  Another option is calling PA programs in the area you are interested and seeing if they have anyone or e-mailing faculty members to see if they know of any opportunities.

3. Join organizations.

Many of the PA organizations have either a forum or part of their website that provides names of people that are willing to have students shadow.  Look into joining a few of these to see if you can make some connections.  I definitely recommend joining AAPA and your state organization at least.  Also consider any specific fields you are interested in.  Our local GAPA chapter will occasionally send out e-mails from students looking to shadow.

Listen to the accompanying podcast episode now!

It can be tough and discouraging to be told no over and over, but if you are able to get even a few hours it will be worth it!  What are some of your tips for getting shadowing hours?