Virtual Doctor Shadowing: What to Know

With limited volunteer and in-person shadowing experiences available during the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual opportunities to shadow doctors have allowed premedical students to expand their understanding of the profession without stepping foot into the clinical environment.

Virtual shadowing sessions are typically orchestrated by third-party organizations that recruit doctors and other clinical personnel. These clinicians create case-based online events that may include real patients and that groups of premed students can join. The level of participation students may have depends on the size of the session, with larger sessions likely less able to serve individual needs and queries.

As you piece together your resume for your medical school application, you may wonder about the benefits and drawbacks of virtual shadowing, especially with in-person opportunities still limited.

Pros of Virtual Shadowing

No connections needed. Prior to the introduction of virtual shadowing, many premed shadowing opportunities were afforded by social connections. Premed students with physicians in their families or social circles may have had easier times securing shadowing spots, while their less-connected peers had to rely on resources like alumni networks and “cold call” outreach to find opportunities.

[Read: Premed Students: Avoid 4 Physician Shadowing Mistakes.]

Virtual shadowing reduces the advantage of well-connected students, allowing any student to register for a shadowing experience regardless of social status, institutional affiliation or any other social determinant that may limited in-person shadowing.

Experiences are tailored to premed students. Virtual shadowing sessions are set up with premed students in mind. Clinical cases are selected and presented in ways specifically geared toward the premed learner.

In contrast, students who attend in-person shadowing days are subject to whatever those days hold, including canceled appointments, administrative delays and rushed clinicians with little time to explain procedures and conditions at the student’s level.

Clinicians who sign up to run virtual shadowing sessions have carved out time to hold such sessions and have prepared information at the appropriate level of detail so that premed students’ learning is both prioritized and maximized during the virtual shadowing experience.

Cons of Virtual Shadowing

Limited chances to develop personal connections. In addition to gaining exposure to clinical practice, in-person shadowing allows premed students to form personal connections with doctors. These doctors may become mentors to students navigating premed classes and med school admissions cycles, and can provide valuable insights on everything from tips to improve medical school applications to transitioning into medical school.

[Read: Month-By-Month Guide to the Medical School Admissions Cycle.]

Depending upon how closely students work with the physicians they shadow, they may even ask for letters of recommendation.

In contrast, virtual shadowing limits the degree to which students can interact with the doctor guiding the shadowing session. Some shadowing sessions do not have a cap on the number of students who can attend, precluding the kind of individualized attention students would have with in-person shadowing.

Students participating in virtual shadowing typically have limited access to mentorship and advising from the participating physicians and may find themselves lost in a sea of other students in attendance.

Not accepted by all medical schools. Though most medical schools have chosen to place value on virtual experiences in light of restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of schools still view virtual shadowing as having less weight than in-person experiences and express a preference for in-person clinical exposure.

[READ: How Premed Students Can Help During the Coronavirus Crisis.]

If you have no choice but to participate solely in virtual experiences, remember that any clinical exposure is better than none. However, given that a proportion of schools deemphasize virtual shadowing, it is wise to engage in any available in-person clinical experiences in addition to virtual shadowing you may plan.

The majority of med schools acknowledge value in virtual shadowing, but relying on those experiences alone to boost your application may put you at an admissions disadvantage.

More from U.S. News

Ways Premed Students Can Build Rapport With Professors to Get Strong Recommendation Letters

4 Activities That Make Strong Medical School Candidates

Paid Work That Impresses Medical Schools

Virtual Doctor Shadowing: What to Know originally appeared on

Related Categories:

Latest News

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up