Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Shadowing Part 1 : Where to find physicians to shadow

As I mentioned in one of my previous entries, my shadowing advice was so long, I needed to divide it up for ease of use. This is part one.

Part 1 : Where to find physicians to shadow

1) Ask your own doctors if you can shadow them.

One of the first things I did when I decided I wanted to shadow was ask my own doctors. A lot of people make this suggestion and by far it is the easiest to do since they hopefully already know you and think well enough of you.

I have four doctors and I get along very well with three of them, so I asked my plastic surgeon, my neurologist, and my family doctor. My family doctor and my neurologist declined because I was their patient. It would apparently interfere with their objectivity.

However, my plastic surgeon could NOT have been more enthusiastic. I've shadowed him several times now. Now there is a restriction on what hospital I can shadow him in so it's hard for me to do anything but shadow a few hours at a time. (Apparently the usual places he works out of don't allow any students at all, not even medical students.) Even though I'm only able to catch a surgery or two per day when I am shadowing, it's been a good experience since it was ALL OR time. Not only did I get to see him work, but also got a little taste for anesthesiology. As of the time of this initial writing, I have 25 hours with him. This included some of my most memorable experiences.

I think part of the reason my surgeon said ok was simply because he was a surgeon. Most people are not going to have super long term relationships with their surgeon, not like they would have with their PCP. Also, I think surgeons like to show off.

2) Ask your doctors for contacts that might be willing to let you shadow.

Of my doctors who wouldn't let me shadow, one (family) refused to give me any suggestions of others to shadow, but the other (neurologist) was incredibly helpful.

I was big on wanting to shadow a neurologist because all my aptitude tests showed my ability to do neurology to be fairly high ranked (actually the highest), plus I am starting to become an expert on a few neurological disorders that plague my family, so it was a logical choice. My neurologist passed me on to a friend of his who let me shadow him for 36 hours. That was, so far, the best overall shadowing experience. It was a very informative look of how things work "behind the scenes" at a doctors office. I was able to obtain a pretty good letter from him from what I understand which I can use for some schools.

Once my neurologist (as in my own neurologist not the one I shadowed) realised I was looking to go into medicine and wasn't just shadowing a neurologist to be a stalker, he helped me shadow a nephrologist (~6 hours) and keeps trying to track down other doctors for me like I have an upcoming few days with Infectious Disease that he arranged. His office is even calling the other doctors on my behalf. I think that is really going above and beyond for your patients. Someone is taking that part of the Hippocratic Oath a little too seriously. LOL.

Also my plastic surgeon tried to help me shadow other surgeons to get some variety, but unfortunately those haven't worked out yet. I'm not too sad, after all, I have a good amount of time in the OR. More than a lot of people.

3) Ask the doctors you shadow for contacts.

I know, this is related to #2, but I bet most people don't even think about it.

The neurologist I shadowed also gave me a list of possible primary care doctors who might let me shadow. I still have to go through the list. It's about a dozen doctors, but I am told I can use his name to get in the door.

4) Find a mentor list and start emailing/calling

I started with the DO Mentor list. I contacted every DO within a several hour drive of me and not once has one responded. From what I hear on SDN, a lot of other students have that problem. Seems to be really hit or miss. If you really want to shadow a DO, try it. Just be sure to not put all your eggs in one basket.

If you have an interest in shadowing a specific type of doctor I would recommend trying to find the local society for whatever specialty you are interested in. (For those in Georgia, I recommend this page : Georgia Medical Societies to get the entire list of societies in Georgia, then do a search on the name of the society you are interested in. The phone numbers on the page are somewhat out of date so don't bother calling them). See if the organization has a mentor list somewhere. If they don't, try contacting a staff member and have them ask some doctors to see if someone would be willing to take you on.

I used a mentor list at the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians and simply emailed people on the list to see if they allowed premeds. I found a "family doctor" who identifies exclusively as an obgyn and pediatrician who would let me shadow for a day. I met a few others who were very willing, but red tape is making it a challenge. One of those who was very willing to help but couldn't because of red tape, passed me on to a staff member at the Academy who found three or four mentors for me for family medicine. I spent about 60 hours with one of the doctors I met this way.

5) True Cold Contacts

As I am LGBT, I wanted to find someone who did LGBT health so I found local LGBT doctors at the Gay Lesbian Medical Association's "Find a Provider" list and started emailing. Of all the contacts I have tried to make, these have been the most responsive (only one person did not email me back). One has been very helpful by giving me advice, reading my statement, and providing phone numbers to other doctors who might allow me to shadow. (He would have been happy to help me himself with shadowing but there was no room in his office.) Another doctor from the find a provider list... just wow. It is hard to imagine a better person to shadow since everything I ever wanted in a mentor is in one package. He is the only person who was affiliated with a teaching hospital and he ranks as my overall second best shadowing experience. (He loses points only because 1. his medical students scare me when we are on rounds, 2. his schedule is absolutely crazy, and 3. the theme to Scrubs automatically plays in my head on autorepeat in my head for the entire 2 hour drive to him regardless of what I do. Other than that, he rocks.)

I also tried contacting other offices which I found through other means, such as google, but so far those have not been successful. I also found a very long list of DOs in my state through the Georgia Osteopathic Medical Association and depending on how things work out, I might use that list when I am looking for another set of people to shadow. It's much longer than the DO mentor list and I'm sure other states have a similar osteopathic organization.

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