5 Reasons a Scribe Job is Better Than Shadowing a Doctor

become a scribe

Many are considering a career in healthcare and shadowing a doctor is one way to find out if healthcare is the right career for you. Working as clinical scribe is another method to gain clinical experience beyond shadowing. It’s difficult to make the great personal investment required to become a healthcare professional without having a well-developed idea of what it truly involves. Shadowing and working as a medical scribe are two ways to gain exposure to the healthcare industry, which can be difficult to find without being a certified, registered, or licensed healthcare employee. While shadowing a doctor and scribing both involve following physicians, there are few similarities beyond that. Scribing and shadowing are distinct opportunities each with their own benefits and drawbacks.

Shadowing a Doctor​

Shadowing a doctor is commonly done by pre-medical college students who are seeking exposure to the daily activities of physicians and healthcare teams. This low-commitment position can reinforce a person’s decision to pursue a healthcare career…or lead them to reconsider it. It has been found that shadowing experiences generally seem to increase a person’s interest in medicine.

A person shadowing will follow physicians as they see patients. Staying close to the wall or curtain on the periphery of the room, they will quietly observe what occurs between the patient and physician during each encounter. This can include patient complaints, physician questions and advice, exams, procedures and much more! Drastic improvements in a person’s understanding of patient-physician interactions and physician responsibilities have been associated with shadowing.

Someone shadowing a physician will likely NOT have any responsibilities regarding the patient’s care. Typically, the only obligations of a person shadowing will be related to confidentiality, professionalism, and ethical standards. How appealing this level of involvement will be may vary depending on what someone is seeking to get out of the experience.

​How to Find a Doctor to Shadow

There are a few ways to find a shadowing opportunity. Some colleges and universities have shadowing programs set up with the hospitals or clinics near them. Stanford University and University of Florida are two schools that offer such resources to their pre-health students, although these types of programs can be found at many institutions. Students enrolled in academic programs where this option is available will want to take advantage of it, as these programs provide a direct and structured way to obtain shadowing experience.

There’s still hope for those who aren’t in a program offering shadowing opportunities. Many hospitals and facilities have their own programs set up for individuals to obtain observational experience with physicians. South Florida Baptist Hospital is one example. To find these programs, check with the human resources departments of nearby hospitals, or search for shadowing/observational opportunities online. There will likely be one close by!

Of course, YOUR doctor may know someone you could shadow, including them! Healthcare providers are teachers by nature, so many of them are willing and even excited to help an aspiring physician out… if they have time.

Devin Scott

Another method to shadow a physician, which may be less reliable but can still work, is the old-fashioned way: find a facility, find a doctor, and ask. You can try to contact facilities or individual physicians you’d like to shadow by phone, email, or letter if they don’t have a website or formal shadowing application. For people in areas with fewer healthcare facilities or facilities with limited resources, this type of approach might be the only option.

Some people seeking shadowing experiences are fortunate enough to have a personal connection with a physician, which can also be a way to find a shadowing opportunity. Of course, YOUR doctor may know someone you could shadow, including them! Healthcare providers are teachers by nature, so many of them are willing and even excited to help an aspiring physician out… if they have time.

​How to Shadow a Doctor

Shadowing a doctor may be mostly done by people seeking a healthcare career, but it’s not exclusive to pre med students. Many programs are open to curious adults from the community who meet a few requirements. Regardless of an individual’s background, most shadow programs will require some basic training on privacy, healthcare etiquette, and ethics; and some may require fees. Once started, the length and number of shifts for each program vary, but most will provide at least 3-4 shifts over a few weeks or months.

With shadowing, steps must be taken to ensure that patients and their information are protected. Some in the healthcare community have expressed concerns about the hazards presented to patients by allowing people to shadow physicians. (1) Unlike other positions, people shadowing will likely not be affiliated with the facility providing the shadowing a doctor experience. Therefore, they’re unlikely to have undergone the extensive training in safety and ethics that regular healthcare employees typically receive. This illustrates an advantage of obtaining shadowing experience through a formal program, as many of these issues are addressed during application and admission to the program.

​The Association of American Medical Colleges provides a helpful document for shadowing that includes forms, guidelines, information on immunization requirements, and more. This is especially useful for those shadowing in facilities that may not have the resources to provide guidance regarding regulatory and ethical compliance.

Hospital Scribe Job​

Since electronic medical records or EMRs took over healthcare, being a hospital scribe has been an increasingly popular way to obtain healthcare experience. As with shadowing, scribes follow physicians as they work and try to stay out of the way while observing them seeing patients. However, instead of simply watching, medical scribes take on a much more important and involved role than those shadowing. Scribes document the patient encounter by noting the complaints and histories of the patient as well as the physical exam, assessment, and plans of treatment from the physician. More information on what a scribe does can be found here.

Why Clinical Scribing is a Better Job

Working as a scribe provides a much more enriching experience versus shadowing a physician for several reasons. Here are 5 of the most notable ones:

1. Active Role in a Healthcare Team

Scribes have become a vital part of many healthcare teams. Some physicians can hardly function successfully without them. Scribes aren’t passive observers like shadows. Instead, they’re essential members of the healthcare team responsible for documenting important information quickly and effectively.

2. Scribe Jobs Provide a Paycheck

Doctor shadowing is done as a volunteer in the form in which it’s discussed here. However, finding a volunteer scribe position is unlikely considering the regulations and stakes involved with healthcare documentation. This means someone working as a scribe will likely be paid for it! You want get rich, but at least you are being paid for your time.

3. Learn Medical Terminology

Shadowing provides an exciting experience by allowing someone to observe healthcare in action and ask questions, but scribes receive a much more immersive perspective of patient-physician interaction and medical decision-making. This role gives scribes access to unique situations for learning that cannot be found elsewhere with the same level of training. This a great opportunity to learn medical terminology because you have to document what is being said and understand the conservation well enough to correctly fill out the electronic medical record.

4. Long Term Job Opportunity

Scribes have become a vital part of many healthcare teams. Some physicians can hardly function successfully without them. Scribes aren’t passive observers like shadows. Instead, they’re essential members of the healthcare team responsible for documenting important information quickly and effectively.

5. Letters of Recommendation

As an employee of hospital clinical or scribe company, healthcare scribes can build rapport with physicians and staff. Shadows are usually just another of the many faces that come and go in healthcare, but scribes get to stay and network with different healthcare professionals. This can lead to additional opportunities for learning, and one of those coveted letters of recommendation!

Both Are Good Clinical Experiences

Finding ways to gain experience in the medical field can be confusing and intimidating. Shadowing a physician and scribing are two different ways to learn more about the healthcare industry, how it works, and if it’s a career fit for you. They will both count as clinical experience and give you something to talk about during your med school interview. The experiences are similar but different, but either will likely be a memorable time from which much will be gained!

For those eager people reading this article, there is always the option of doing both. Shadow a doctor first to see if you like it and then make the bigger commitment of becoming a medical scribe.

1. Physician Shadowing: A Review of the Literature and Proposal for Guidelines. Kitsis, E and Goldsammler, M. 1, 2013, Academic Medicine , Vol. 88, pp. 102-10.

2. Is a Career in Medicine the Right Choice? The Impact of a Physician Shadowing Program on Undergraduate Premedical Students. Wang, JY, et al. 5, 2015, Academic Medicine, Vol. 90, pp. 629-33.

3. Stanford University. Stanford Immersion in Medicine Series (SIMS).

4. University of Florida. Shadowing. UF Academic Advising Center.

5. Baptist Health South Florida. Observer Program.

6. Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). Guidelines for Clinical Shadowing Experiences for Pre-Medical Students.