Shadowing in the Pandemic? A Guide to Connecting with Health Care Professionals during COVID

Shadowing is an excellent way to explore careers in health care and medicine. The process of shadowing involves observing a professional in their daily work environment to experience the real-life routines and challenges of your field of interest. Unfortunately, many students continue to face shadowing access challenges due to the ongoing pandemic.  However, if you are in this situation, there are still options for you to connect with professionals in the field! You do not need to miss out on the insights and benefits that shadowing can offer. If you want ideas for pandemic-era shadowing and connecting with health care professionals, this resource is for you! 

Is shadowing possible during COVID? 

Yes, and no. Many (but not all) health care shadowing programs have suspended their in-person programs during COVID. For example, ThedaCare (a large healthcare system in Fox Cities) is currently limiting college student shadowing experiences to students who are required to shadow as part of their formal college curriculum, such as nursing school students. However, shadowing policies may vary at this point in time, especially at private or independent practice clinics. For example, there are private/independent veterinary clinics, dental clinics, physical therapy clinics, and other healthcare clinics in the area that are currently allowing shadowing for interested college students who reach out. 

What alternatives are there? Informational Interviewing 

If you are having difficulty identifying shadowing opportunities, consider setting up some informational interviews. “Informational interview” is a fancy term for a simple concept: talking to people about what they do. If you have ever had a conversation with a family member or professor about their career, you have already essentially conducted an informational interview. Here are a few steps to get started with informational interviewing: 

1) Identify people you would like to meet with. You can search in Viking Connect, Lawrence’s alumni platform, to find Lawrence alumni who are working in your field of interest. Click “Explore the Community,” and then search by industry, keywords, etc. You can also reach out to Lawrence professors, friends or family members in the field, or other individuals in your field of interest. 

2) Contact the person to ask to meet. Send a brief email or message in which you say a bit about yourself, your career interests, and how you found the person you are contacting. Mention that you are interested in hearing about their field and/or their career path, and ask if they would be willing to meet for a short time (30 minutes) via Zoom, phone, in person, etc. 

3) Prepare and conduct the interview. The interview itself usually lasts around 30 minutes, and is led by you, the student interviewer. Prepare a list of questions ahead of time, based on what you are most interested in gaining from the experience. Do you want to learn about what their typical day looks like, or what experiences were most valuable for them when they were a student?  

4) Always send a thank-you note. Make sure to thank them for their time, and feel free to stay in touch. 

Also be aware that many health care professionals are working long and intense hours right now, and be respectful of the fact that some might not have the time to speak with students. 

What alternatives are there? Virtual Shadowing 

There are also quite a few opportunities for virtual shadowing experiences, and these are becoming increasingly more widespread due to the pandemic. Virtual shadowing experiences are usually quite different from in-person ones, and sometimes consist of pre-recorded videos as well as synchronous sessions. Make sure to check with each program to see if you can list it as official shadowing experience – this varies by program. 

While the virtual aspect can certainly take away from the direct nature of the experience, shadowing during COVID can offer some unique insight as well. Rarely before has it been possible to observe health care professionals at such an important time in the field, when their service to our communities is especially crucial. This can set the stage for meaningful conversations with health care professionals, if you have the opportunity to speak with them.  

Here is a sampling of virtual shadowing programs: 

HEAL Clinical Shadowing (physician) 

Webshadowers (physician) 

Medschool Coach Beyond Shadowing (physician) 

Teleshadowing (physician) 

Virtual Shadowing (mostly physician, some PA) 

Medical School Headquarters e-Shadowing (physician, PA) 

Pre-Health Shadowing (Medical, Nursing, Dental, Pharmaceutical, PA, PT) 

University of Colorado Virtual Shadowing (physician, nursing, PA) 

Physician Assistant Shadow Online (PASO) (PA) 

Ampers&PA Virtual Shadowing (PA) 

Empowered PAs (PA) 

OT Observation…Plan ‘B’ (Occupational Therapy) 

Dental Shadowers (Dental)