Shadowing Etiquette for PA Students

Michele Neskey
Published on Oct 7, 2020. Updated on Oct 5, 2020.

Making the decision to go into a medical career can be a challenging one. It all looks perfect on paper, but how do you know it is the right fit? In my opinion, the most important thing you can do to solidify your desire to become a Physician Assistant (PA) or any other type of medical provider, is shadowing. When you witness a provider in action, how we function as part of the healthcare team, what the interaction with patients is like, you can really get a true feel for the profession.

How to find shadowing opportunities as a PA student

Identifying a provider that would be willing to let you shadow can seem like an insurmountable task at times with certain practices having restrictions, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students are having more difficulty than ever given overburdened health systems and practices switching to Telehealth platforms

Some things you can do to overcome these barriers are to reach out to your local, regional and state PA chapters, research local MD offices and hospitals in your area to see if they have practicing PAs that are able to take students. Dig into your extended family and friends for resources, six degrees of separation is a real thing. 

Utilize resources on social media like LinkedIn and Instagram are great places to find local PAs. Be resourceful and you will find a provider to shadow. Lastly, attend any virtual shadowing opportunities offered by PAs online. While this does not replace in person shadowing, it is a great way to ask PAs direct questions and get a sense of their day to day in different specialties.

The Posh PA’s 10 tips on shadowing etiquette

Once you have identified an in-person shadowing opportunity, there are some basic behaviors that are expected that are considered both polite and professional, otherwise known as Shadowing Etiquette. Some of these may seem obvious, but you want to ensure a quality experience that will not only provide you the hours you need for your application, but also serve as a networking opportunity. Here are my top 10 tips on Shadowing Etiquette:

Show up on time, and dress the part

Confirm the time, location and dress code for shadowing at least 2–3 days prior to your arrival. You want to ensure you arrive a few minutes early and dressed appropriately. Unless otherwise stated, business casual is accepted almost anywhere, which includes closed-toe shoes. 

Do your homework

If you have not interacted face to face with the provider in the past, be sure to do a little research prior to your shadowing day to learn more about the practice and specialty.

The days can be long—so bring snacks!

Bring water and food. Depending on the practice you may not break for lunch or may have to eat on the run, so be sure to keep yourself hydrated and with some protein packed snacks in your bag that you can grab on the go. You are there to learn and do not want to become the patient by having a syncopal episode from dehydration or low blood sugar. 

Be prepared to take notes

Bring a pen and notepad for note taking. You may consider bringing a copy of your resume as well. 

Put away the cell phone

Put your phone away. Unless you are researching something with the provider or taking electronic notes, you should not be messaging friends or on social media during this time. This will make it seem you are uninterested which is the opposite of what you need to convey.

Be curious

Ask questions but do not be overbearing. You can ask questions about the clinical cases, medications, and all things patient care. But you can also ask about how they choose their career and what steps it took to get there. If they have any recommendations for you to be successful. Get to know the provider and develop a rapport. This relationship will allow you to feel comfortable asking to return on multiple occasions and hopefully a letter of recommendation at the end of your time.

Show interest, and follow up

Be sure to get a business card or contact information that you will need for your application and to reach out to them for future shadowing.

Keep a record of your activities

Track your hours and ask if the provider would be willing to sign off on them. Many schools may want verification so having signed paperwork with all of your hours listed can be very helpful.

Talk to people

Yes, you are shadowing a provider, but gaining insight and making connections with other medical professionals can also be beneficial. Shadowing is a great networking opportunity!

Gratitude goes a long way

Say THANK YOU. It is important to express your gratitude for the opportunity as it is not only the polite thing to do, but will make the provider feel appreciated..which is always a good thing!

The most important thing to do is treat this like part of your job. Be professional, courteous and kind and you will make the most of every shadowing experience!

About Michele Neskey

Michele Neskey, also known as The Posh PA, graduated from the Yale PA program in 2005. She has specialized as a PA in Hematology/Oncology for 13 years and focuses primarily on solid tumors. A Past President of the Association of PAs in Oncology and published author in multiple journals, Neskey serves as a preceptor for PA clinical rotations and lectures at local PA programs. She is the CEO of The Posh PA, LLC where she serves as a mentor to pre-PAs, students and practicing PAs.



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