Hindsight 2020: Shadowing Prior to Externships

By Alex Brown.

Was one of your New Year’s resolutions “be proactive with externship applications?” (Spoiler: it is on my list for 2020).

Let me preface this by acknowledging that I am not an expert on clinical shadowing experiences. However, I genuinely enjoy the process of researching a program, reaching out to the team, and shadowing to learn more.

So much information can be gleaned through experience than from reading a program’s description online. It is incredibly beneficial to shadow programs, even just a handful, to get a sense of the environment, patient population, workload, and workplace culture. By identifying what appeals to you about a given program, you are able to define and prioritize your values and goals for a prospective externship, and ultimately a residency program. It also demonstrates initiative and advanced interest in the program, which can only be helpful when programs are considering externship applicants.  

Have I convinced you of the importance yet?

Hopefully! If so, read on for some of the key tips I have gathered and use personally to make the process a bit more organized and manageable.


I. Prepare

Before reaching out to any program, there are certain clerical items that should be in order should the program decide to ask:

Updated resume

No one has asked me for a resume before shadowing. That being said, it gives me peace of mind to have a recently updated resume if a program director were to ask. At the very least, you will have a resume draft for when you start externship applications. 

Use a professional email account

If you have a school one, use that. I have finally retired my “iLUVnyc” yahoo account from middle school, but goofy email names present a risk for programs developing preconceived notions about you.  

Record of immunizations

This is handy to have, especially if students are able to observe in the operating room. Clearance for the OR is an understandably strict process, so it’s helpful to have quick access to this information should the opportunity present.


II. Be Proactive

Research programs. Make a list of the ones that interest you, and think ahead to when you would be able to fit a shadowing day into your schedule.

At Temple University, there is a convenient break in between the first and second years. This is the perfect time to schedule visits, as your schedule is (hopefully) more flexible than during the academic year, and you can better accommodate whatever dates work best for the team you’re hoping to shadow.

Email or call to politely introduce yourself and state your interest in shadowing. Give advanced notice of the days you’re hoping to shadow. For me, I’ve aimed for 2-4 weeks in advance of my target time frame. Recognize that the surgery or clinic schedule may be fixed, and be as accommodating and understanding as possible.

III. Confirm

After discussing with the team in advance, it may be beneficial to email closer to the scheduled visit to confirm that it still works for the team’s schedule (e.g. one week prior). Things come up, and it never hurts to confirm. This is a good opportunity to ask specific questions (e.g. where to meet, program’s dress code for students) and exchange numbers should issue arise the day of.

IV. Professionalism

On the day of your shadowing experience, remain professional and enjoy your day! You might use any down-time to ask questions of the residents and any current externs. Learn and absorb as much as possible.  

V. Follow-up

Hand-written thank you notes remain the gold standard after an interview, and the same applies for externships and shadowing opportunities. If there’s a concern that the “snail mail” won’t arrive timely, sending an email on the same day or the day after your visit is appropriate in addition to a handwritten note. 

Enjoy your shadowing experiences and best of luck! 


By Alex Brown.


Hindsight 2020

Hindsight 2020

Special Edition, 4th year 

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