Complimentary 1-hour tutoring consultation Schedule Now

Complimentary 1-hour tutoring consultation
Schedule Now

Blog / How Many Shadowing Hours Are Needed For Medical School

How Many Shadowing Hours Are Needed for Medical School?

Written by Keenan on Apr 15, 2022

How many shadowing hours are needed for medical school?

Are shadowing hours even needed?

What extracurriculars are needed to get into medical school?

In this article, we will dive into everything you need to know about shadowing hours for medical school, are they worth or time, and if so how do you go about getting them. 

The years of undergraduate schooling are preparation for the self-education that a physician must continue throughout their professional life. Medical school applicants are encouraged to have a broad educational background. Even though good ethics, strong virtues, academic achievement, and genuine diligence to be a doctor are qualifying attributes to urge into medical school, you need to invest time and effort into extracurricular activities. 

The Value of Medical School Extracurriculars

Medical schools stress the importance of extracurricular activities when applying. Extracurricular activities show medical schools a range of characteristics that form a positive impression, such as your willingness to learn new skills and work with others.

There is an entire section on the AMCAS medical school application reserved solely for Work and Activities, where you can list and describe each extracurricular activity you have invested time in during your undergraduate years. 

These activities include (but are not limited to) clinical experiences such as shadowing a physician and working in a hospital, research projects (clinical, transitional, and basic science), community volunteering, performing a job, chasing a hobby, and joining student groups. 

These activities provide colleges with more insight into who you are and what your interests are. Applicants must obtain physician shadowing experience and volunteer hours to better inform their decision for a career in medicine. 

The main objective is to demonstrate your skills and qualities beyond academic achievements. The best way to provide valid evidence is by elaborating on real-life examples from your clinical experiences. It indicates that you have taken essential steps before entering med school.

How Many Shadowing Hours are Needed for Medical School?

There are no specific rules for exactly how many shadowing hours you must have. Some schools maintain that shadowing experiences can put applicants in a more determined situation in the admissions process. Many medical schools have a minimum requirement for shadowing hours. This may vary; some schools require 12–24 hours, while others require more than 75 hours. Generally, the range is between 40 and 100 hours. 

Shadowing can be arranged in half or full-day stints (typically from four to eight hours). Also, it can be done on single occasions or over multiple days. The length of the shadowing experience, setting aside the student’s preferences and needs, depends on the doctor’s clinic hours and availability.

How Shadow Hours Benefit You 

Shadowing is an on-the-job learning opportunity where you learn what a particular job entails. You observe how the doctor interacts with patients, performs procedures, converses with their coworkers, and how they spend their time during the day. 

Shadowing allows you to interact with patients, provides you with a clear understanding of the work that goes into medicine, and gives you first-hand experience of the healthcare field. 

However, shadowing physicians and asking them questions about their jobs and lives allows you to catch a big picture of your future in your mind. Don’t just watch. Write down questions. Ask them why they chose their specialties. While shadowing multiple physicians, you will be able to understand which field of medicine piques your interest and what you’re passionate about. 

Shadowing opportunities can also provide you with potential strong letters of recommendation from a valued source.  

Shadowing will vary depending on who and what field of medicine you shadow. It is important to note that shadowing provides you with the best opportunity to learn from first-hand accounts, so take advantage. 

What You Will Need to Know to Get Started

Determine Specialties of Interest

When applying to medical school, take note of the type of medicine you would like to perform and pursue shadowing opportunities within that field. 

If you are unsure about the type of physician you would like to work with, shadow different fields to help you decide. As your focus becomes more defined, you should also try to shadow doctors in your specific sphere of interest. 

Some of the common medical school specialties include family medicine, internal medicine, and pediatrics. Surgical specialties are typically more procedural and are operating room–based (OR). A few common surgical specialties include general surgery, ophthalmology, thoracic surgery, and otolaryngology.

Finding Shadowing Opportunities

Once you narrow your options to the specialties you are interested in, start by contacting your college’s pre-med advisor. That person can facilitate your connection with a network of physicians, among whom are likely to be alumni. If you have friends in medical school, you’ll also ask them to refer you to the physicians they shadowed as pre-meds. Even your family doctor may be able to connect you with colleagues.

Contacting Physicians

Unless you’re determining shadowing opportunities through a school program, then you’ll need to reach out to physicians directly. 

Start by Introducing yourself via email or telephone, note your stage of training, and attach your resume to deliver more information about your background and achievements. Ask directly to shadow a doctor, and describe what you hope to gain from the experience. You can also outline why you are interested in medicine. Instead of sending a generic note, invest the time to create a thoughtful, personal request.

How Important is Volunteering for Medical School?

Medical experience is enormously valuable to premedical students. It helps premeds understand how hospitals or clinics function and the teamwork involved in providing good medical care. It’s a key means of gaining experience in healthcare. Premedical student volunteers are given roles in language interpretation, data entry, patient intake, supply management, and inventory. Participating in medical volunteering activities helps you make new friendships, expand your network, and boost your social skills.

Your volunteering involvement is something you’ll probably get questions about at your interview. Creating a competitive application requires more than just strong academic performance and test grades. Any admissions committee reviewing a medical school application wants to know that the person they are considering has carefully inspected the field of medicine and precisely measured the decision to enter the profession. Fortunately, the opportunities that are generally considered “clinical experiences” are abundant. 

It’s easy to go unnoticed as a premedical volunteer in busy healthcare environments, where getting the most out of clinical experience can be challenging.

There are, however, measures that volunteers can take to make the experience purposeful, get the hang of the profession and become better prepared to reflect on their experience when it’s time to apply.

Steps for Maximizing Your Shadow Experience

Research Medical Conditions You See

Every day that you are in the clinic or hospital, identify one medical condition in a patient you have seen. Research that ailment, and get a basic understanding of the pathophysiology, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and treatment options available. You may not get everything you read, but this exercise will give you the perfect opportunity to familiarize yourself with medical science.

Learn About Healthcare Systems. 

Clinical settings are a great place to learn more about the healthcare system. This knowledge is important because many medical school interviewers ask applicants about their views and basic knowledge of the American healthcare system. Additionally, learn about the role of different team members involved in patient care, such as occupational therapists, social workers, case managers, dietitians, and radiology technicians. 

Practice Empathy

Take advantage of interactions with patients to develop a greater appreciation for the cultural nuances involved in verbal and non-verbal communication. As you interact with patients from different backgrounds, try to examine the differences in how people from various cultures communicate when sharing their experiences of illness. 

Keep a Journal 

Gather all the knowledge you’ve gotten from your clinical experience after every shift you spend in a clinic or hospital by keeping a journal. Did you achieve something new about the medical profession? Did you observe an interesting physician-patient interaction? Was there something about your experience that drew your thoughts further to the medical profession? If you have taken the time to put your ideas down in writing during your clinical experience, you can draw on those writings in your application process and offer a more brilliant view of the career of a physician.

How Many Volunteer Hours Are Needed for Medical School?

While this is a great question, it’s not the hours that matter, it’s how you spend those hours. Treat volunteering for medical school as a step that allows you to grow and examine your passion as a doctor. Service work isn’t about the numbers, it’s about the quality and longevity of those hours. 

Medical schools suggest AT LEAST 10-15 hours a month. Medical schools will be far more impressed by a volunteer experience that took a lot of effort, time, and dedication over 2-3 years. Making a long-term commitment shows that you are dedicated, which is an important quality for future physicians. They also view service work as a long-term commitment, where a prospective applicant has committed at least six months to a given organization.

Should you Focus on Shadowing or Volunteering?

The main difference between clinical volunteering and shadowing is that volunteering is usually more structured than observation or shadowing. It is providing unpaid work to treat or care for patients, whereas shadowing is an opportunity to observe a medical professional as they provide care for patients. Shadowing provides you with an in-depth look at the daily practices of a company and can be just as relevant as an internship or previous work experience. Volunteering may sometimes place you in a setting that could allow for both shadowing and hands-on service opportunities.

Keep in mind that anytime you shadow or volunteer, it’s best to ask if there is anything you can do to help that would still allow you to be around the patients and the healthcare profession.

Putting it all Together

Whether you are looking to improve your application through shadowing or volunteering, the path to medical school can be a difficult one. This is why we at Jack Westin are here to help, be sure to check out our Medical School Admissions services HERE


Billing Information
We had trouble validating your card. It's possible your card provider is preventing us from charging the card. Please contact your card provider or customer support.
{{ cardForm.errors.get('number') }}
{{ registerForm.errors.get('zip') }}
{{ registerForm.errors.get('coupon') }}
Tax: {{ taxAmount(selectedPlan) | currency spark.currencySymbol }}

Total Price Including Tax: {{ priceWithTax(selectedPlan) | currency spark.currencySymbol }} / {{ selectedPlan.interval | capitalize }}