*Virtual* Shadowing & Letters of Recommendation
By Thea Swenson, MD, @doctor.thea
During the current pandemic, it has been difficult to find doctors to shadow and build relationships with. Do you have suggestions for how to find clinical hours and obtain letters of recommendation during this time?
Recently, a large number of pre-medical/pre-health organizations around the country have started hosting virtual shadowing events. This is a great opportunity for pre-health students, as it exposes you to a variety of specialties and career paths within healthcare. These sessions can be especially helpful if you’re in the very very early stages of your career. Certain organizations also give you clinical hours for attending their session and taking a post-shadowing exam. Virtual shadowing opportunities are a good supplement for clinical hours and can hold you over during this socially-distanced time.
By attending some of these virtual shadowing sessions, you might find a speaker that you really like. Or you might find a speaker who resides in your current city. You could try reaching out to these speakers with specific, directed questions and ask if they have an opportunity (be as specific as you can!) for you. With the current situation, chances are that you won’t be allowed to shadow in the hospital, but they may have a project that you can work on virtually.
I’ve become familiar with these organizations through Instagram and Twitter, speaking at a few of these sessions myself. My favorite shadowing experience was with Virtual Shadowing. They are an extremely professional group, and the students who attended the session were a joy to speak with. They asked great questions, and the hosts (who were a group of premedical students as well as attending physicians) were very warm and welcoming. If you haven’t checked them out, I highly recommend attending one of their sessions.
For other opportunities, look locally. Reach out to your nearest medical school to see if they have virtual mentorship or shadowing opportunities. Even though you might not be able to start in-person shadowing now, you may be able to connect with the school and the opportunities they have nearby. You may even be able to take steps towards in-person shadowing. There is always a lot of paperwork that needs to be filled out, for example, and now is a good time to get the logistics out of the way so you can hit the ground running when the time comes.
Letters of Recommendation
Obtaining letters of recommendation can be very difficult if you haven’t actually met your letter writer in person. If you did really well in a virtual class, I would start by reaching out to your professor to write your letter. That professor could at least speak to your performance in his or her class.
If you’re starting from scratch, your best bet is to try to find a way to virtually build a relationship with potential letter writers. It might take a little bit of creativity, so here are some ideas. You could reach out to an academic physician and offer to help them remotely with their research. Be very specific about what research skills you have and what you could offer. Could you sort through the data? Perform statistical analyses? Do a background literature review? You could also reach out to a private practice physician and offer to help them virtually with their practice. Could you help them build their social media presence? Take photos for their office or website? Help contact patients and schedule telehealth visits?
There are plenty of opportunities to help a busy physician (or physician-in-training) and obtain a strong letter of recommendation. You just have to be creative and specific! At the same time, make sure you are very careful about what you create, as it can be difficult to understand someone’s expectations especially when you’ve only met them virtually. As long as you are professional and cautious, you shouldn’t have an issue.
Lastly, given the medical hierarchy, you might find yourself connecting and spending more time with a physician-in-training than with an attending. Physicians-in-training can also help with recommendations. In fact, they may even be able to write you a personalized letter of recommendation on which their attending signs off. This can be a great way to obtain a recommendation, even outside of the pandemic. Physicians-in-training are often closer to the application process, and they understand how important it is to have these letters. They may also be easier to contact, and they may also have more time. Ultimately, they may get to know you better and be able to write an outstanding letter. The trainee will then send the letter to the attending, who will addend and make changes to the final draft. This takes some of the workload off of the attending’s plate, which is a win all around.
Thea Lananh Swenson, MD is a second-year PMR&R resident at Vanderbilt University. She is passionate about lifestyle medicine, healthcare technology, and medical student education. She hopes to specialize in sports medicine.
Follow her on Instagram, @doctor.thea, to follow her journey through residency and into sports medicine.