News & Announcements

Student Spotlight: Job Shadowing

Feb. 25, 2020

Student Spotlight: Mackenzie Hogan on Job Shadowing

Job shadowing is a short-term experience that can show you “a day in the life of” a healthcare professional that works in a career field of interest to you. Job shadowing is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to work in the field and can be a requirement for some degree programs. We asked Mackenzie Hogan, a current Health Science student and aspiring physical therapist, about her experience with job shadowing.

Q: Where did you shadow?

A: “I shadowed at a variety of places. Graduate programs like to see that you’ve observed in different areas of healthcare and have seen different specialties rather than focusing on just one aspect of physical therapy. I did some hours in various outpatient clinics, both private and extensions of hospital systems. I spent a day at the University of Iowa in several inpatient areas. I’ve seen specialties including sports injury, pediatrics, cancer rehab, and women’s health. Overall, I have had over 100 hours of shadowing experience.”

 Q: Please share how you found your shadowing experiences?

A: “I didn’t know anyone in the field when I wanted to start shadowing. In high school we had a service that helped us set up shadowing opportunities, so I started with that resource. Once I got to college, I simply started doing internet searches for local PT clinics. I have done cold calls, I’ve gone into clinics to ask in person about shadowing opportunities, and I’ve used suggestions from friends who are going into the same area of study as me. You can’t really rely on one form of communication. To give yourself access to more opportunities, you have to be willing to be flexible and try several approaches.”

 Q: How did you prepare for your shadowing experiences ahead of time?

A: “Before I shadowed anywhere, I did as much research on the place/clinician as possible. Knowing the setting you’re going into can help you think of questions and makes it less intimidating because you sort of know what to expect. Almost every location that I shadowed in required me to  fill out paperwork. You will always have to sign a HIPAA form to ensure patient privacy. They also usually want to know a little bit about you and why you would like to shadow with them. The night before my shadowing appointment, I always made sure I knew where I was going, how to get there, and how long it would take me so I could be sure to arrive on time. People are taking time out of their busy work schedule to accommodate you, so it’s important to respect their time.”

Q: What did you gain from participating in shadowing opportunities? 

A: “Shadowing opportunities allowed me to get acquainted with physical therapy as a career. Through shadowing, I learned how different in-patient is from outpatient. I saw a variety of specialties, including some I didn’t even know existed! I also got to meet amazing clinicians and ask them about why they chose that  field, how they got to where they are now, and some advice as I got ready to apply to programs.”

Q: Did you document your shadowing experience? If so, how and why?

A: “I wish someone would have told me about keeping track of shadowing hours sooner. This is maybe the most important part about shadowing. I started off just writing things down by hand in a notebook. I then tried using a spreadsheet on a computer. As I began looking through the PTCAS system I realized that they actually have forms you can print out that help you track your shadowing. It is not enough to write down how many hours you were there and what the date was. To make your time worthwhile and your application process smoother, you should keep track of the date, hours, the clinician you shadowed, the name of the clinic, if you saw mostly in-patient or out-patient care, anything interesting you observed or learned throughout the day and you should get a signature from the clinician. This is something I wish I would have known years ago.

Some programs require “verified hours” which means you need the clinician to verify that you were with them when you say you were. It is difficult for them to remember you if you only shadowed for a few hours several months ago. If you get a signature immediately after your experience, it will save everyone a headache later.

 It is also important to write down what you observed because after 100 hours, the different experiences start to blur together. It’s a nice reminder that you’ve seen a shoulder post-surgery, ACL repairs, hip replacements, Parkinson’s therapy, etc. so you can recall those details and use them in interviews.”

Q: Did you follow up with the sites after any of these experiences?

A: “After my shadowing experiences, I usually sent the clinic or clinician a thank-you email or note. They were willing to take time in their already busy schedule to teach me something and give me valuable experience. Make sure you show your appreciation. If I really liked the clinic or worked well with someone, I would also follow up to set up additional shadowing appointments.”

Q: What advice do you have for students seeking shadowing opportunities?

A: “You can always ask about shadowing. The worst that can happen is they say “No” and you move on in your search. Don’t be nervous or shy, just explain why you would like to shadow and hope for the best. Please don’t forget to document! If you think you have too much information written down about your experience, you’re wrong, you can never have too much. It’ll help you in the end and remind you to get the most out of every experience.”

If you would like more information and resources on job shadowing and volunteering you can visit:

Do you have experience in the following areas?

  • Internships
  • Career Fairs
  • Volunteering
  • Getting involved on Campus
  • Undergrad Research

If you would like to be featured in an upcoming student spotlight, please email