Texas Tech University


Getting the Most Out of Shadowing Experiences

Among the most important choices in life is that of a career and life's work. This single choice should combine one's values and aspirations, self expectations and assessments of fit, uncertainty, consideration of costs, and concerns for how the choice affect  personal and family life. The choice of a career in health care is, in a word, complex.

In order to get the most out of shadowing experiences and to learn what it is like to be a health care professional, discover not only what the professional with whom you'll be spending time does all day, but also how they:

  • organize the day;
  • allow time for the unexpected;
  • stay current in the profession;
  • address uncertainty;
  • and integrate personal and professional life.

There can be a lot to take in, both from the professional and from the patients, as well as those in the patients' lives. Experienced health care professionals know that patients and families are important teachers. Conversations about the above matters with the person whom being shadowed can add so much to the experience. Most professionals appreciate the opportunity to reflect and teach.

The bigger question though is, What was learned? Among other activities during this experience, consider the following:

  • What did you learn about:
    • the illness, injury, or condition;
    • the patient's life of both relevance and importance;
    • the professional-patient relationship;
    • the importance of spending enough time;
    • the importance of engaged listening without interruption;
    • how the professional reasons and makes decisions;
    • not only about the patient, but from the patient;
    • what it is really like to be a professional in this field?

Keep a journal of experiences and reflections as not only a way to record facts and feelings, but also to develop the skill of being a reflective health care professional, a valuable quality. Feel free to show these recommendations to those being shadowed, to establish shared goals.

Lastly, feel free to contact your advisor for additional help during this experience.


adapted from University of St. Thomas, Laurence A. Savett, M.D., Fall 2011