Stop Feeling Useless – How to Improve Your Shadowing Experience

Premed blogMore often than not, shadowing is a pain. Getting the honest attention of a doctor as a pre-med student regularly ends as a futile attempt at trying to live out some dramatic fantasy. As a requirement for medical school, shadowing is a necessary evil.

Most students put too many expectations on their ideas of what shadowing will be like – I know I did – and thus leave the door wide open for disappointment. It’s not our fault! We’re entitled to our expectations and a lot of times they’re valid.  Shadowing, however, is one experience that left me wanting.  Does it have to be that way?

Having discovered JoMI, I am here to say: it does not.  As someone entering medical school, I’m compelled to share my opinions on how JoMI can make shadowing as a pre-med, and presumably a med student, better meet our expectations.

Albeit painful, remind yourself of the anxiety that comes with trying to shadow a doctor.

“Dear Dr. X,

My name is TJ France and I’m an undergraduate at Y school looking for the opportunity to learn from an orthopedic physician. I’m contacting you to inquire whether your schedule would allow me to shadow you in your daily routine to learn more about the field. Please get back to me at your blah, blah, blah.”

Sound familiar? And if you’re prudent you’d get your old mother goose to check it, she’d tell you that in a formal letter “I’m” should really be “I am” and that of course you should end with a more proper sign off.

Eventually we’ve all sent this email because we’ve been staring at it for just the right amount of time to convince ourselves that its brevity is its strength. We may even get a little carried away in imagining that the doc will not only consent but may ask us to help him in the OR stat. And if you’re lucky, the doc will reply and give you a shot. What a relief.

Until you walk into his office and he sits you down.

Things could go smoothly as long as you were clear in your email that you wanted to shadow and he’s not one of those doctors that tries to rattle the cage of a teenager already walking on eggshells. Though let’s say he is. He gives you some grief and you of course have to take it while trying to quiet the thoughts that this may have perhaps been a mistake and that maybe you’re insufficient. Lo and behold though, he actually allows you into the OR for a case he’s managing today! Wow, what a treat! Seriously, this happens next to never and now you find yourself smiling as you put on your gloves and gown. You dance into the OR like you’re walking onto Soldier Field, ready to see your destiny.

Fifteen minutes in you may be thinking you got a little over excited. Thirty minutes in you know you did, for even though this was an amazing opportunity, you can’t see anything, the doctor’s not talking to you, you can’t keep up with what he is saying, and you feel in the way because yes, you kind of are.

It’d be more honest for med schools to ask on the application whether you’ve ever felt out of place while shadowing instead of whether you have ever shadowed. Ignoring the lucky few who find mentors in the physicians they shadow, these two questions are synonymous for basically every pre-med student.

The didactic level of the experience is a function of the surgeon and the environment, and the reality is that to believe that shadowing is the optimal learning experience is a naive notion that most students quickly adjust to. Shadowing, as it’s thought of, is a little outdated though, right? I mean, with the ability to tape procedures it makes it a little redundant to have to go into the OR and stand in the corner. In fact, filmed procedures can be even better, because with them you’re able to see what’s happening, you can hear what the surgeon is saying, the surgeon is engaged in teaching, you can stop and scrub to better understand, to look things up, to check against references, and you can even pause if you need to go to the bathroom!

Enter JoMI.

When a surgeon is operating, there is rarely an angle into the operating field, the surgeon is concentrated and even if they speak loud enough to be audible, their attention is not on teaching. This is where JoMI fills in the void between the textbook/classroom and the OR.  It helps prepare students by providing them an opportunity to learn from a surgeon as a surgeon is operating with 1) optimal viewing angles, 2) high-quality audio, and 3) the ability to pause to fully understand what is going on. The ability to virtually shadow a surgeon in this manner immensely enhances the experience of shadowing him/her in real life – when the student can focus on things that video can’t offer no matter how good it may be.

I’m starting med school in one week, and when I saw what JoMI offered I got as excited as if I was walking into the OR, not yet disillusioned by the fact that, as pre-med, I wouldn’t be of any help. Really what I saw was a way to improve my understanding, which in my brain meant I wouldn’t have to feel as useless and I would have a competitive edge on those who did not use JoMI. In addition, I saw JoMI giving me an opportunity to explore specialties that I could otherwise imagine being turned away from due to the lack of exposure or feelings of inadequacy in the OR that could seep into my impressions of the field.

JoMI isn’t a way out of shadowing altogether. I will eventually want and need to see the other part of these doctors’ lives to see if any of them are like me and to really see if their shoes could be mine. I put faith in the idea that, because I am a medical student, I won’t be as useless as I originally was as a pre-med when the time comes to scrub in. I still hold to that – that what I learn in class I will be able to translate into a colorful word cocktail in the OR, painting me as informed and prepared. But part of me knows that I’m being idealistic, and that it’s not always going to be a perfect translation. Especially if what I’m learning isn’t exactly what I’m seeing on the OR table.

This time, however, I won’t have to put faith in any idea or hope I’m not being idealistic in relying on the articles I watch on JoMI. If I am about to see a fractured femur repair, I can prepare by watching the LISS Plate Distal Femur Fracture.  If I am about to walk into the OR of an unforgiving vascular surgeon, I can prepare by reviewing Microsurgical Technique for 1mm Vessel End to End Anastomosis. JoMI plays like a first- person video game. Not only do you have a bird’s eye view, but you’re the one in the hot seat, making the cuts, suturing, breaking and building, positioning, ordering. So really it’s like shadowing, but immeasurably better.

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