Medical Shadowing: What to Do When You Have the Chance

Doctor Shadowing

shadowing doctors

Every premedical student knows that shadowing is an important part of their medical school application. Shadowing is a great way to understand the profession, see what doctors do on a day to day basis and make sure that you enjoy it! However, oftentimes students are confused as to how to get the most out of medical shadowing. But if you follow these two simple tips, you’ll be able to maximize your shadowing time and eventually be able to talk about it intelligently on your medical school application as well as during interviews.

Tip 1: Do some homework!

For shadowing experience to be worthwhile, it makes sense for the student to do a little bit of reading before hand just to understand the terminology used. Often times, especially when shadowing a specialist, there are a lot of acronyms and names that are brought up and thrown around.

Preparing a little beforehand to know what types of procedures or what types of things may come up before that experience happens is important. If its going to be a regular shadowing experience, go home and do so some reading about what you saw that day to get a better understanding of what happened.

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Questions are never something to be afraid of! In fact, as you move along in your medical education, questions will be how you learn! Don’t expect someone to always force feed you knowledge; you must be proactive in wanting to understand medicine. For example, if you are in a clinic and you have seen a patient with a doctor for 20-30 minutes, keep a mental note of questions that would be interesting to ask afterwards. Questions such as, “Why did you do that?”, “Why did you ask that question to the patient?” would be helpful. In addition, I think the key thing to any encounter with any patient is to figure out why the doctor decided to go with a certain plan of action. Each encounter with a patient is split up into two parts: the information gathering part, with questions such as, “Why are you here?”, “Where do you have pain?”, and the second part is the counseling: “Given what you told me, here is what I think we should do.” I think to learn the most you have to really try to understand from the doctor, why did he or she prescribe a certain medication, why did he or she decide on a particular diagnosis over another. I think asking questions around those pieces will provide more insight to what medicine is about and really help you get something out of the experience.

Military Scholarship and Medical School

military personnel yelling at cadet

Military Medical SchoolMany medical students consider a military scholarship for medical school and have many questions surrounding the process. Medical school is expensive, bottom line, and the anticipated debt after four years can be daunting. The average medical student graduates with just over $200,000 in debt. With a typical re-payment plan, the total repayment cost can exceed $400,000. With such a steep price, it is no wonder why applicants seek out alternative ways to finance medical school.

One of these options is the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) offered by the Army, Navy, and Air Force. The deal is full tuition through medical school, including all costs for books and equipment along with a living stipend in exchange for four years of military service once your education is complete. In this article we will briefly explore the path and day-to-day life of an HPSP student.

Signing up

In order to join the military you will have to be in touch with a recruiter and complete an application. Many branches still have an automatic acceptance program in which a certain GPA and MCAT score will earn you the scholarship as soon as you get your first medical school acceptance letter. A 1 year scholarship requires 2 years of service, everything after that is year for year. Most students end up taking a 4 year scholarship to cover all of medical school incurring a 4 year commitment to the military.

Medical School

Most students will complete their basic officer leadership course the summer before medical school or in between their first and second years. During medical school you will look and act just like your civilian peers with no other requirements. In your 4th year, the military will pay for you to do 2 audition rotations/interviews at programs you are interested in for residency. Room, board, and daily costs are covered for a maximum of 45 days.


                  Most students will end up going to a military residency program. There are exceptions for some of the more specialized branches of medicine but this gets tricky and is a larger discussion. During these 3-7 years, depending on your specialty, you will be active duty. This means you will be wearing a uniform and working in a military hospital. It also means you will be paid as an active duty service member.

Life After Residency

                  While some physicians will now go on to fellowship training, many will now begin their payback working in their field of specialty at a military hospital or clinic. This is now the first time you will be eligible for deployment. While deployments work on a rotating basis, it is safe to assume that during a 4 year payback you will likely be deployed at least once for 6-9 months. There are, of course, many exceptions.

All in all, the military scholarship is an attractive option. You can finish medical school with zero debt in exchange for military service as a physician which can be very rewarding in its own right. Military physicians receive extra training in leadership skills and adaptability which easily carry over into civilian life.

About the author: David is a board certified family medicine physician in the Army currently working as a flight surgeon. You can contact him at for more information about the HPSP scholarship or life as a military physician in general.

Typical Day in the Life of a Radiation Oncologist

radiation oncology picture

radiation-oncologyWe recently sat down with Dr. Aneja, a former admissions committee member and radiation oncologist. He is one of MedSchoolCoach’s lead advisors and provides advising to students looking to gain admission into medical school. We asked him about his life as a radiation oncologist and what students who shadow physicians can learn from them.

Could you please describe a typical day at work in your specialty?

Sure. I’m currently a resident in radiation oncology which is somewhat a unique field in medicine. Because it’s a little bit smaller, it’s something pre­medical students don’t know about and you learn about it in medical school. My typical day of working with a multidisciplinary team of radiation oncologists as well as medical and surgical oncologists includes us seeing patients in clients in clinic who are candidates for radiation therapy. So my typical day involves consultation with them and discussing radiation therapy. The second part of my day involves planning radiation therapy for patients who had previously consented to receive radiation therapy. The planning process includes designing radiation therapy plans as well as approving those plans with our staff members and then the last part of my day is also continually managing the patients currently receiving radiation therapy. I think unlike a lot of other medical fields where patients are seen once every couple of months or every couple of weeks, our patients when receiving radiation therapy are seen every day somewhere between two to five or even nine weeks. It allows you to develop a relationship with them throughout the course of their care.

Do you have students who shadow you sometimes as a radiation oncologist?

Yes, definitely. We have students from all different ages. We have students involved in our high school programme here at Yale who come from the New Haven county who are interested in oncology as a field and we expose them to the ways in which oncology is different than what they have been exposed to just from the current studies. We also have undergraduates who shadow us for a period of time then we have medical students who are rotating and then other residents as well who are involved.

So, when these students shadow you, what are the key things that they should keep in mind? Is there anything in particular that they should be observing or would learn by observing?

Generally when undergraduate students shadow I recommend that they really get an understanding of the way that the clinic flows, the types of patients that we see in an oncology setting and if that is something that they are interested in. I think the other thing that’s important for undergraduates to understand is that medicine is a multidisciplinary field so it’s not only doctors. There are nurses, nutritionists and many others involved in medicine. It is something that involves a multidisciplinary team so despite your position you still have to work with people. For high school students, it’s important for them to see patients and whether or not they enjoy interacting with patients and whether or not they feel like that intellectual processor trying to help patients through solving medical problems. For residents and medical students already in medical school, the important thing is for them to see if this field is something that they are interested in, if they enjoy the clinical flow, if they enjoy the ways in which this field is different than the surgical subspecialties, or feels better, little more diagnostically focused. So things like pathology and radiology would be distinctly different than radiation oncology and that would give them a more patient centred versus radiology and pathology which is centred on diagnostics.


How to Improve Your GPA for BS/MD Programs

What GPA do I need for BS/MD Programs


Gauri Patil, our resident BS/MD expert, wanted to share some tips on how to improve your GPA during high school so that you can get into a great BS/MD program. These tips are also relevant for college students looking to maintain a high GPA!

  1. Don’t take shortcuts

This is one of those tips that, even though I heard it in high school, I never really took seriously until I got to college. But now that I have used and applied this piece of advice, I could never go back to my old high school ways.

In high school, depending on your teacher, it’s possible to sometimes get away with not doing your homework or barely studying for an exam and still doing well. And while at the time this may sound ideal, it’ll actually hurt you in the long run. When it comes time to finals week at the end of the semester and you have to take four or five huge tests all at the same time, there is no way you can cram in an entire semester’s worth of material into one night. No matter how easy the teacher is or how lenient the curve is, if you put off the work until the very last minute, it’ll come back to bite you.

In college, if you were to implement that same strategy of putting off all your work until the very last week of the semester, you would most likely fail the class (as opposed to high school in which you would probably just get a slightly lower grade). In college, the difficulty of content is much greater and the pace of learning is much quicker. So as a result, students are expected to take initiative and keep up with the material in a consistent and timely manner. Sure, there are students who slack off and keep up with their high school study habits in college (aka procrastinating on all work until the last minute), but you will find that those students often end up dropping out of the class before finals week even approaches because their grades are so low that there is no chance of recovery.

Ultimately, the main difference between high school and college is time of realization. In high school, you can get through the entire semester by taking shortcuts and only in the end will you realize how horrible of a mistake this was. In college, however, you will quickly notice your grades plummet if you consistently choose to put off your work. The temptation of procrastination is thus greater for high school students, because they don’t realize the negative effects of it until much later. If you give into this temptation, though, you will likely end up hurting your GPA.

So even though you may not realize it now or have the pressure to really so, try to be thorough and consistent in keeping up with lecture material. It will pay off in the long run not only with your GPA, but so too with your success in college.


  1. Figure out what works best for you


There isn’t much to say on this topic other than the fact that different people thrive in different environments, so figure how/where you work best and stick to it!

I’ve listed below some questions you can ask yourself that’ll help guide you when you’re trying to “figure out yourself.” Remember, there’s really no right or wrong answer to any of these questions, they’re simply meant to help you maximize your efforts:

  1. How do I respond to pressure situations?

This is an extremely quality to know about yourself when determining what study habits are best suited for you. Some people tend to work better under pressure while others crack under pressure. If you’re of the former type, then perhaps procrastination isn’t the worst thing ever for you. In fact, it might be one way for you to produce some of your best work (read: don’t “pretend” to be someone who works well under pressure just so procrastination is a valid excuse for you… it’ll hurt you later on!) If, however, you’re of the latter type (like me!) then you should make sure to keep close track of your assignment due dates and allot enough time for you to be able to finish them in a timely manner.

  1. How much time do I usually take to work on assignments?

This question is a good follow up to the last question because it’ll probably reinforce your answer. If you’re typically someone who likes to take their time with assignments and spread out the workload over a number of days, then you probably aren’t the type of person who does well under pressure. On the other hand, if you tend to get distracted easily and need an imminent deadline to make you focus on your work, you likely do better under pressure. Whatever the answer may be, make sure you plan ahead of time to make sure you have enough time to produce your best possible work.

  • What kind of ambiance do I work best in?

To answer this question, there are a lot of sub-questions you could ask to figure out where you work best. For example, how easily do you get distracted? If easily, then would you mind working in a loud environment? Or would you be able to pop in your headphones and tune out the noise? If you don’t get distracted easily, then can you study with friends? If so, how many friends? Do you work better early morning or late night? These are just some of the questions that’ll really help you narrow down your list of ideal workplaces.

Personally, I can tell you that I my workplace varies based on the type of work I’m doing. For example, when I’m studying science or math related subjects, I prefer to work in a quiet study area and only listen to classical music (because any lyrical music distracts me). If I’m working on an essay or doing some writing work, though, I like to be in a coffee shop ambiance (with a little more activity happening around me) and have lyrical music playing because it gets my creative juices flowing. Regardless of the type of work I’m doing, though, the one distraction I must always avoid when studying is friends. I find that when I study with friends, I just end up socializing with them instead of being productive.

One of the benefits of college is that you meet people of all different types, which makes your individuality more acceptable. In high school, every one is trying their hardest to fit in, so they’ll just do what everyone else is doing even if it isn’t in your best interest. Of course, this is a natural part of high school, but if you’re serious about getting a good GPA, I strongly recommend you find what works best for you and stick to that even if it isn’t what everyone else is doing.

  1. Where do I fall in the VARK model

The VARK model is used to distinguish between different types of learners: Visual, Aural, Read/write, and Kinesthetic. Knowing which of these categories you fall into can help you figure out which study strategies might be most effective for you. For example, I’m an auditory and visual learner, so if there’s a concept I don’t understand, I like to have someone talk me through it and then I’ll later go and draw a visual representation of the concept to reinforce it in my head and also to help me remember it better. There’s plenty of surveys and tests online you could take to figure out your exact learning type, or you could just think back to how you’ve approached concepts that have given you trouble in the past and what you did to better understand them. Either way, once you figure out how you learn best, try putting it to the test every time you have an upcoming exam. Sometimes teachers tend to focus on one learning strategy more heavily than others (such as taking reading notes, which falls under the read/write category) so it might require a bit of effort on your part if you prefer a category that you teacher doesn’t usually emphasize. But hard work and effort never goes to waste, so just put in the work then and you’ll appreciate it when you later ace that test!


DO vs MD Schools – Understanding the Differences and Career Implications

Check Out Education Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with How to Get into Medical School on BlogTalkRadio

Dr Sahil Mehta from MedSchoolCoach, one of the nation’s best medical school admissions consulting companies, explores the DO vs MD debate. Deciding whether to apply to, and accept an osteopathic admission is a big issue in the minds of many medical school applicants. There are pros and cons to the DO/osteopathic route and we explore some of them here. Learn how your career maybe impacted by going to DO school versus MD school and what you should consider before deciding to apply to osteopathic schools.

MedSchoolCoach is the nation’s leading medical school admissions consulting company. MedSchoolCoach employs only physicians who have been on admissions committees. They understand the medical school admissions process inside and out and can help you with your personal statement, interview preparation, AMCAS application, secondaries and much more.