What is shadowing?

If you’ve been reading up about Project Kilimanjaro or Project Sri Lanka, you’ll have seen the term ‘shadowing’ used in relation to your hospital work experience.

Shadowing is a form of work experience involving observing a variety of roles within the healthcare system in the UK or Overseas and it is usually purely observational due to the health and safety restrictions of not yet being a healthcare professional yourself.

Even though it may seem ‘boring’ to simply watch someone, it is highly useful to shadow a healthcare professional for a number of reasons:

  • Exploring whether you think a career in Medicine is for you

  • Gaining further valuable knowledge about clinical conditions and the NHS

  • An opportunity to ask many questions about anything, and everything!

Shadowing can take place in a variety of settings including hospitals, GP practices and hospices. This can be difficult to arrange, especially in the UK, and prospective medical students (especially those aged under-18) may find they are restricted.  Most students might think that they have to shadow doctors, but there are lots of roles within the multi-disciplinary team that you can shadow and gain knowledge from.

When you are on a shadowing-style work experience, there are a few things that you can do to get the most from your time. Consider keeping a diary or portfolio to highlight the things you have learnt or specific cases you came across (with no patient identifiable details.) Sometimes you can find it hard to remember what you went into the kitchen for, let alone think of the rare disease you came across in work experience two months ago!


It is important to use this time to ask people questions about their day-to-day life or about current medical topics in the media. They should understand that you have not actually been to medical school yet so don’t worry about asking them lots of questions. By asking more questions, you will be able to understand more. Medical jargon can seem like another language so do ask if you don’t understand.


In addition to shadowing in the UK healthcare system, it is important to think about other types of work experience such as simulations, overseas shadowing and caring roles. Think about work experience as quality over quantity – it is better to have a lesser amount of good quality work experience rather than several weeks of experience that you have learnt little from. A good way to then use your work experience is then to be able to reflect on such things as skills/qualities that you have learnt during your time, ethical topics that you witnessed or exploring the realities of a career in Medicine. Having a number of various, useful work experiences shows your dedication to exploring a career in Medicine.


Work Experience Top Tips from Dr. April Diviney:

  • If you are finding restrictions to gain work experience, think outside the box

  • There are lots of types of work experience besides for shadowing

  • There are not only doctors to shadow in the clinical multi-disciplinary team

  • Keep a diary!!


You can find out more about shadowing doctors in our overseas projects via the links below: