April 26, 2021

How to Write About Your Virtual Shadowing Experiences

The Savvy Premed

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

Unless you did your clinical shadowing before the lockdown in March 2020, or unless you’re one of the lucky pre-meds to find in-person shadowing during the pandemic, then you’ll be forced to write about virtual shadowing in your 2021-2022 application.

It seems like a difficult task. Due to the passive nature of shadowing, it’s already tricky to write about it compellingly, and the virtual format only makes this more challenging.

But it can definitely be done, especially if you’ve gone out of your way to find optimal virtual shadowing and taken steps to get the most out of the experiences.

We’re here to answer all your questions about writing about your virtual shadowing experiences, including some do’s and don’ts and an example for you to emulate.

If you follow this advice, you’ll be able to show medical schools the value of your virtual shadowing experience in a memorable, convincing narrative!      

How to Write About Your Virtual Shadowing Experiences

There are several considerations we need to discuss before diving into the actual writing process, so let’s get started:

Why Do Medical Schools Make You Write About Shadowing?

  1. Medical schools want to see whether you understand a physician's demands, lifestyle, and duties, especially compared to other healthcare roles (shadowing does this more than other clinical experiences). In short, do you know what it takes to be a physician?
  1. They also want to see how well you interact with patients, especially those who are different from you. What are your people skills like? Can you exhibit professionalism in a clinical setting?


What Kind of Virtual Shadowing Experiences Will Medical Schools Be Looking For?


Before pursuing a virtual shadowing experience, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Is it active or passive learning?
  2. What is the consistency and accessibility of the sessions?
  3. How much credit can you get? And how restrictive is the process?
  4. What is the content presented?
  5. How closely does it reflect actual in-person shadowing?

Virtual shadowing can potentially offer all these criteria, but it will be important for you to seek the right platforms that will maximize your virtual experience).

Weak Virtual Shadowing:

Some virtual shadowing opportunities consist of doctors talking over PowerPoint presentations. They’re passive and not very immersive, meaning that you don’t truly see the performance of duties or get the full picture of a doctor’s job. We understand if medical schools view these with a level of scrutiny. 


Solid Virtual Shadowing:

Other virtual shadowing experiences involve pre-meds learning clinical skills from recorded patient interactions. These are more active and can actually build diagnostic skills through insights into real cases and a firsthand view of the job’s demands and duties.


Strong Virtual Shadowing: 

The most sophisticated virtual shadowing experiences involve the doctors walking pre-meds through the cases themselves. This is the best of both worlds, in the sense that you get to build skills while also directly discussing the cases with the physicians themselves. 


As an applicant, part of the onus will be on YOU to make sure that the medical schools fully understand the quality of your virtual shadowing and what you learned from the process. That means you’ll need to write about these virtual shadowing experiences in an effective, persuasive way.


Where Should You Include the Writing About Your Virtual Shadowing Experiences in Your Application?

  • Activity descriptions (700 characters each) - if you’ve had several brief shadowing experiences, we recommend grouping them into one activity entry, but if you’ve accumulated many hours with one physician, it would be acceptable to separate that one shadowing experience off from the rest into its own activity entry

  • Secondary essays (various character limits) - there will be some secondary essays that specifically ask about shadowing experiences; however, if the questions ask about “meaningful clinical experiences,” we recommend choosing something other than virtual shadowing if possible

  • Most Meaningful Essays (1325 characters) - it’s NOT the best idea to write about virtual shadowing as one of your Most Meaningful essays, unless you’ve accumulated TONS of hours and feel confident that you can show how the experience shaped your personal growth; choose other activities if possible

  • Personal Statement (5300 characters) - there’s a point in every Personal Statement (usually in the middle) when you explain your exploration of medicine that tested your commitment to the field and confirmed your decision to become a doctor; in some cases, your virtual shadowing will be the best experience to illustrate this affirmation, but if there’s a better option where you’re more active and involved (scribe, medical assistant, etc), it’s probably wise to choose that experience instead

What Are the Do’s and Don’ts When Writing About Your Virtual Shadowing Experiences?


  • If possible, discuss any interactions between you and the patients themselves, especially diverse patients who are much different than you
  • Make yourself as active as possible in the narrative
  • Explain new clinical skills you learned or practiced
  • Bring up the questions you asked the physicians and the insights you gained into their diagnostic or treatment process
  • If possible, show a continuity with certain patients and their repeated visits
  • Show a recognition of the challenges of medicine, but also express an excitement to embrace those challenges
  • Try to illustrate how the experience shifted your perspective on medicine 


  • Don’t draw too much attention to the pandemic’s restrictions and the struggles of the virtual format; you don’t want to complain or sound whiny and resentful
  • Don’t exclude yourself from the story and remain on the periphery the whole time; don’t just say “the doctor did this, then the doctor did that…”
  • Don’t assume that an interesting case will do all the work for you; it’s great to discuss unusual conditions or situations, but only if you can show yourself as actively and presently involved in the narrative
  • Don’t ignore the challenging realities of being a physician; you’ll sound naive if you present a rainbows-and-sunshine perspective of medicine

Is There a Good Example of Virtual Shadowing Writing That You Can Follow and Emulate?

Sure. Here’s a good example of what a virtual shadowing activity description (696 characters):

  • Shadowed multiple physicians (cardiology, endocrinology, family medicine) at ABC Hospital during telehealth visits
  • Introduced myself to patients and families and thanked them for consenting to my participation in the visit
  • Learned about common cases like hypertension/diabetes, but also complicated conditions like blood clots/Graves’ disease 
  • Asked patients questions about symptoms/history when prompted by the physician; actively listened and debriefed with physician afterwards
  • Observed physicians comforting crying patients and fielding aggressive questions from distraught family members
  • Discussed physicians’ specialties in between visits; heard about the biggest rewards and challenges of each

Here’s how you could turn this same experience into a meaningful paragraph in your Personal Statement:

With my interest in medicine piqued from my biology classes, I sought out shadowing experiences to test my commitment to a physician’s duties, responsibilities, and daily lifestyle. One meaningful experience was observing Dr. NAME’s telehealth consultation with a recently diagnosed diabetic patient. After introducing myself to the patient, I was allowed to ask a few questions about the patient’s family history, diet, and lifestyle. Dr. NAME commended my inquiries but also filled in the gaps with some additional questions. When Dr. NAME drew a diagram of the bloodstream and pancreas to show the patient what was happening in their body, I copied it down myself and took notes so that I could debrief with the doctor afterwards. The patient worked busy hours and lived in a food desert, so their main concern was eating healthy and controlling their diet. This showed me the importance of personalizing one’s care and avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. Dr. NAME took the time to outline what a typical day’s meals could look like, along with tips and resources for healthy cooking on a budget. I found some local groceries in walking distance of the patient’s neighborhood where they could purchase healthier, more nutritious options. Since my uncle has diabetes, I also shared my family’s strategy of changing our diet together to support him and help him stay accountable. The patient was surprised and intrigued by this approach, thanking me for my advice. In the end, the patient left the visit with a clearer understanding of their condition and how they could control it through a combination of insulin and lifestyle modifications. As Dr. NAME and I discussed the case afterwards, I felt even more drawn to medicine as a way to share my knowledge as a trusting guide and educator who can steer people towards healthier futures.

Have any questions about writing about your virtual shadowing experiences for medical school? Let us know in the comments below, and we’ll respond to you personally!

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