Many who are currently working in the health care field felt drawn to caring from the very beginning. They’re the people who as children couldn’t pass by a hurt bird without stopping to help. Or the ones who from a very early age were outraged by health care inequality and felt responsible for having some part in addressing it.
But the health care field offers many different opportunities to make a difference! How did these caring people ensure they chose the field that is the best fit for their talents and interests? They tried them out before committing their time and resources! By job shadowing, often called just shadowing, future health care professionals are able to get a glimpse beyond the job description to see what a position actually entails.
What is shadowing?
Shadowing means that you spend a day or two on the job with an expert, following her closely as she completes day-to-day tasks. Shadowing shows you your job of interest firsthand so you can determine if the job is something that you can see yourself doing as a career. Shadowing also gives you an opportunity to connect with someone working in the field, someone who could serve as a reference or a mentor down the road.
Whom should you shadow?
Start with your health professions advisor if you’re a college student. They will likely have contact information for professionals in your area. Are you one of the millions of health care professionals who are motivated to join the field because you’re following in the footsteps of a family member? Ask the health professional who inspired you if you can shadow them! The important thing is that one shadowing experience is hardly ever enough. Ask the first person who you shadow if he knows others in their field that you can follow as well. Don’t have a direct connection that seems promising? Many professional organizations can help coordinate a shadowing opportunity. For instance, the American Dental Association’s Career Mentoring Program lists dental societies that will match prospective students with practicing dentists in the area.
What if you can’t find a shadowing position?
It happens—many students are finding it harder and harder to shadow health professionals, particularly due to legal restrictions at hospitals and other health care settings. Your involvement
may be restricted to meeting and talking with professionals, rather than actually shadowing them throughout a day’s experiences. If you seek to gain experience in patient care, consider a volunteer activity in addition to your shadowing. Health professions advisors as well as volunteer coordinators at local hospitals and clinics can direct students to volunteer experiences that offer the opportunity to interact with patients and see health care providers in action. Thanks are due to Anne Wells, Ed.D., Senior Vice President, Division of Educational Pathways at the American Dental Education Association, for serving as a source for this article.