By: Aastha Gupta and Valeria Suaznabar
Do you understand all the challenges that lie between you and your dream medical school? You might recognize obstacles like obtaining a high GPA or taking the MCAT, but there’s a challenge that blindsides many: describing your shadowing experience.
Getting shadowing is difficult enough, and its true benefit is often lost through poor or common descriptions. You may have fewer words to describe shadowing, but it can often be as important as your personal statement, especially since shadowing is meant to show your exposure to the clinical environment and its challenges.
Worst of all, it's often difficult to frame your experiences in a unique and compelling format. Shadowing experiences can be incorporated in your Work & Activities section as an activity description, and if it is memorable enough, it could be expanded into your personal statement, most meaningfuls, and secondary essays.
In this article, we’ll provide you with some do’s and don’ts on how to make your shadowing experiences shine while analyzing samples of students’ writing.
I attend weekly interactive virtual shadowing sessions in which healthcare professionals and medical students discuss educational recordings of real patients and cases. I learned about clinical skills involved in presenting a case to attending physicians, as well as how to make differential and evidence-based diagnoses, read test results, and propose treatment plans. I used this opportunity to get a broader sense of the medical field and its composite specialties. My experience emphasized the idea that physicians serve as a bridge through which medical knowledge is translated into patient care; selectively applying medical knowledge and problem-solving are key skills for a physician.
When students discuss their shadowing experience, they often refer back to the doctor far too much. The doctor is a vital part of your experience: they are the ones you are learning from and watching, but they are NOT the main character of your application. The main character is… you guessed it: YOU! Though this student could have altered the sentence structure at times, they focused on what they learned and did within the experience, and that is vital.
This student not only details what they learned specifically, but also what they learned about medicine in a broad sense. By using a variety of lenses to describe their shadowing experience, this student frames what they gained in a unique way.
The student did not mention where they obtained this pre-health experience or what doctors they shadowed.
Be specific where you can. By detailing the platform, you will portray your experience in a more official light, something that is especially necessary when it comes to virtual shadowing, since it is a relatively new concept.
-Virtual teaching platform that includes real patient cases with interactive medical diagnosis opportunities with many certified physicians.
-Joined to gain more experiences with real-time medical patients and clinical hours with treatment and acquire more information about the healthcare system in the real world.
-Learned how to provide professional diagnosis and course of treatment through recognizing common symptoms in various infections and diseases.
-Witnessed interesting and bizarre case studies and allowed me to understand the scope of variability in injuries in the hospital.
The student lists a lot of examples, such as how to provide professional diagnosis and treatment. Shining light on learning about recognizing common symptoms and absorbing new material shows they put thought into their writing and took time describing their experience in terms of content. More importantly, it gives more substance to the experience by indicating what the student learned.
The student includes what the clinical shadowing experience taught them about the medical field that they previously did not know, which is essentially the point of clinical shadowing.
The description of the shadowing experience lacks detail of personal experience. While there was detail in the content learned, the connection to a personal experience was missing. When writing about your shadowing, if you choose to describe your experience in bullet form, you will have to work hard to include your own voice, story, and “why medicine” reasons.
Your application is not necessarily a resume where you're trying to pack everything you did in one bullet. Rather, it is a place to let your distinct experiences shine through. This is an opportunity to show how you were engaged with the clinical shadowing experience.
Although they mention that they have learned “essential skills,” this student does not go into detail of what these skills entail.
We learn what they specifically did within their experience, but we are not privy to how this experience influenced their “why medicine” details.
As someone who changed their career path from Veterinary Medicine to instead become a Pain Specialist, I wasn't sure how to get experience in the human medical field with a worldwide pandemic happening. I heard that there are opportunities for applicants to medical school such as myself that can be achieved online. HEAL Clinical Education Network allowed me to start learning immediately with real cases and well-rounded doctors presenting and breaking these cases down in detail. As a person who has had over a decade of clinical veterinary experience but no experience with human medicine, I thought I had to wait until the pandemic was over to get shadowing experience and wait for another year to apply, but HEAL was a great quality program that was engaging and very informative, even allowing me to see similarities with human and animal ailments and treatments. With that said, HEAL has eased the application process, assuring me that I have quality experiences through their online format, but it has also eased the uncertainty of my recent career change to become an MD instead of a DVM.
There was a shift in perspective which supported the storytelling format of the description. This story also highlights the student’s desire to learn new topics, shining light on the applicant’s nature. This sample does a good job of keeping a flow. Though storytelling is not always necessary, it is a useful tool to keep the reader’s interest, place yourself as the main character, and detail how your experience has changed your perception.
The student went in-depth about where they received their shadowing hours, along with detailing how the hours fulfilled the requirements of shadowing experiences. The students also went in-depth into how the platform assisted them in understanding the difference between their previous and new path, another great way of showing the admissions committee their own unique journey.
This student does a fantastic job of relating how this experience has shaped their journey to becoming a doctor. However, they should also express how this virtual shadowing helped them understand the challenges that befall doctors and the difficulties of the field of work they are joining.
At the end of the day, shadowing is what you make of it. You will be the person who controls how you portray your shadowing narrative to the admissions committee. Shadowing allows you to engage with clinical content and learn with an open mind. But most importantly, these descriptions give you space to highlight your passion and further delve into the reason why you chose to follow this wonderful, yet rigorous path.
Remember, your goal during clinical shadowing opportunities is to gain insight and understanding of what it’s like to be in the healthcare field. Whether your shadowing experience is in-person or virtual, following these do’s and don’ts to sharpen your words and keeping this goal in mind can make an immense difference!
Have any questions about describing your pre-med shadowing experiences? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!
About the Authors:
For her 18+ years on Planet Earth, Aastha Gupta has developed a passion for reading and writing, often imagining herself as having superpowers. Although the powers of the Flash were undoubtedly out of reach, her love of science led her to become a pre-med at UCONN. Aastha has written for the college newspaper and has always enjoyed telling stories. As a student of science, she understands the associated challenges and hopes to help others along their journeys into medicine.
Valeria Suaznabar is an undergraduate student at Ryerson University in Toronto, working towards her BSc in Biomedical Sciences. She is also inclined to complete a Minor in Psychology, as she is passionate about cognition and behavior. She spends her time as an Intern at HEAL Clinical Education in the Learning Division, helping in creating content and Anytime Courses. In July, Valeria was given the position of Program Services Coordinator at Shine Through the Rain Foundation, whose goal is to help chronically ill patients across Canada who are going through financial difficulties by providing programs, financial support, and donations.