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How many shadowing hours do you need to apply for medical school?

Published April 16, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    If you’re considering medical school, you may be wondering if you’re required to do shadowing hours to apply, how many shadowing hours are required, and frankly, you may even be wondering what shadowing hours even are.

    While not every medical school requires a set number of shadowing hours, some appreciate seeing this experience on your medical school applications.

    In this article, we’ll cover what shadowing hours are, if medical schools require applicants to have a certain number of shadowing hours under their belt, and how to go about getting them.

    What are shadowing hours for medical school?

    Medical shadowing hours are known as the time that current or aspiring pre-med students may spend observing healthcare professionals such as physicians, nurses, or other healthcare practitioners as they perform their daily responsibilities. This can be in a hospital, private clinic, correctional facility, or in another location.

    These opportunities likely don’t involve interacting with patients, but rather getting to understand the day-to-day responsibilities of healthcare providers. This includes what happens behind the scenes, like with record keeping and personnel management. After all, there’s more to being a healthcare provider than simply seeing patients.

    Students undertake shadowing hours predominantly for two reasons – to see if they want to pursue a career in medicine, and in support of their medical school applications (some of which require shadowing hours).

    Some students applying to medical school seek out clinical experience either instead of or in addition to shadowing hours. What’s the difference between the two? Clinical experience isn’t passive like shadowing, and often involves hands-on patient experience in some shape or form.

    This might involve volunteering in a patient setting such as hospice care or as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT). It might also include working in a patient facing role in a hospital or doctor’s office, like checking in patients or administering tests. Depending on the form these positions take, they can be either paid or unpaid.

    Meanwhile, shadowing is designed to be a passive experience to give aspiring healthcare practitioners the knowledge of what it’s really like to work in the profession.

    Do all medical schools require applicants to have shadowing hours when they apply?

    Many, but not all medical schools require that applicants have shadowing hours under their belt when they apply. Some medical schools expect a mix of clinical experience and shadowing hours, while others require one or the other, or neither. It may be important to keep in mind that while some schools may not require shadowing hours, it can often be a beneficial thing to include in an application regardless.

    How many shadowing hours do you need to apply to medical school?

    There isn’t a universal standard for how many shadowing hours you need to apply to medical school. Harvard Medical School for instance recommends an average of 40 to 50 hours before applying, while the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania states its successful candidates don’t tend to have accumulated that many hours. You may consider looking up the schools you’re interested in and seeing what’s required or recommended to figure out how many you may need.

    On top of the number of hours that a medical school may look favorably upon, some schools recommend that students diversify how they accumulate shadowing hours. For instance, sometimes it’s recommended that students accumulate shadowing hours in a private practice, a hospital, an in-patient medical center, an out-patient medical center, and in an in-patient medical center to maximize the experience.

    How do pre-med students go about getting shadowing hours?

    To get shadowing hours, you’ll either need to sign up for a program that helps facilitate shadowing hours, or you’ll have to conduct outreach to medical professionals on your own to secure hours.

    If you plan to do the outreach yourself, here’s a list of ways you may be able to make connections to land a shadowing opportunity:

    • Research hospitals with shadowing programs and reach out to them
    • Ask family and friends in the medical field to recommend you
    • Send cold pitches to doctors and other healthcare personnel directly
    • Ask your family doctor for referrals
    • Reach out to medical organizations near you

    Of note, after you secure a shadowing opportunity, you may have to enroll in HIPAA training. HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, created national standards to protect sensitive patient information and prevent that information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent. Beyond that training, you may also have to undergo a background check and make sure your immunizations are up to date to participate in shadowing.

    How do you keep track of shadowing hours?

    You may need to keep track of your shadowing hours in a specific way to provide proof to the medical schools you apply to that you completed the shadowing hours you say you did.

    You can keep a shadowing hours log sheet to keep track of your time. This can be a log sheet you create yourself or one that you download and utilize. Consider the following elements in your log sheet:

    • Date of shadowing
    • Start time of shadowing
    • End time of shadowing
    • Hours shadowed
    • Observation notes
    • Who you’re shadowing
    • The contact information for who you’re shadowing
    • The signature of who you shadowed

    On top of being able to verify your shadowing hours, some medical schools like to see recommendations from the healthcare providers you shadowed in your application, so keep that in mind.

    Final thoughts

    Applying to medical school is known to be a rigorous path for students. Gaining experience shadowing healthcare workers — including doctors — will both help you see if the field is right for you and may help you build a successful medical school application.