October 8, 2020

Will Medical Schools Accept Virtual Shadowing?

By: Savvy Pre-Med Staff

Hospitals and clinics have mostly banned pre-med students from shadowing and volunteering, but medical school admissions committees continue to require hundreds of clinical hours (~300 total, 100 shadowing) in order to get in. 

You could opt to get an EMT or phlebotomy certification, but those essential jobs typically require 20+ hours per week, not a time commitment that most full-time students can keep.

So how do you get clinical experience when you're not "essential personnel?"  

Will Medical Schools Accept Virtual Shadowing?

Our answer: a tentative “yes.”

Traditionally, there have been VERY few virtual clinical and shadowing experiences, so medical schools will have to individually decide whether they will accept this replacement, which clearly isn't as formative as an in-person experience.

In the same way that some medical schools have chosen to waive the MCAT while others haven’t, we suspect that schools will be somewhat split on this issue as well.

Thankfully, thus far, the limited available data has shown that the majority of medical schools will accept virtual shadowing and clinical hours.

During a recent webinar from the Illinois Medical School Consortium, where 10 schools were represented, 7 schools reported that they’d be accepting virtual experiences as a way to meet their requirements.

COVID-19 has had unprecedented impacts on all sectors of society, and medical school admissions is no different. Overall, it will be difficult for medical schools to claim equity in their selection processes without adapting to the pandemic and more liberally accommodating students’ efforts to meet requirements. 

To approach this question logically, let’s consider why medical schools require shadowing and clinical hours in the first place:

  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?

With these criteria in mind, the question becomes - can these skills and exposure be replicated on a virtual platform?

Maybe. We think it depends on what’s actually happens during these virtual experiences.

Medical school admissions is a “zero-sum game” (one person’s acceptance is another’s rejection). Or in other words, medical school admissions is scaled - if everyone is deprived of certain opportunities, like shadowing and clinical opportunities, your reactive choices as an applicant will be considered and compared to others in your same position.

So, if you can’t access shadowing or clinical hours in-person, then medical schools will value the next best thing.

This means there will be a HUGE emphasis on what actually happens on these virtual shadowing and clinical platforms.

It MATTERS WHAT YOU DO, not just the accumulation of hours. This applies to in-person clinical experiences as well, of course - are you just answering phones, or are you playing some kind of active, patient-focused role?

The litmus test for whether the virtual shadowing is meaningful: can you write a compelling essay about the experience?

And what makes a compelling essay? Usually, that relies on you having an active role and learning in a hands-on way, whether that’s technical or interpersonal skills.

Thankfully, some virtual platforms allow you to be MORE active than traditional shadowing, if they’re conducted well.

During traditional shadowing, you usually can’t interact with patients, the doctors don’t have time to teach you very much, and you can’t push pause to educate yourself about a case and its underlying factors.

Virtual shadowing could potentially offer all these missing criteria, but it will be important for you to seek the right platforms that will maximize your virtual experience (more details on that in a future blog post!).

Just like telemedicine overall, we believe that virtual shadowing is here to stay, even after the COVID pandemic is over. This has parallels to online education in general - as a society, we’re slowly going to do more training, activities, and learning virtually.

And medical schools will be forced to adapt, just like everyone else. 

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

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