How-to Guide to In-Person Shadowing:
Ah, shadowing. Sounds somewhat Peter Pan-esque, no? And maybe just as terrifying. Well, fear not, my fellow future optometrist! That is what we are here for at Pre-Optometry club.
- Target smaller private practices. They are simply less likely than a hospital setting to care about COVID and other shadowing regulations – unfortunate, but true. Also try more rural offices, in nearby small towns like Delaware, Granville, Johnstown, etc. I feel like they are also less likely to get more students interested compared to, say, Nationwide Children’s downtown here or Wexner here on campus.
- Go to the schools themselves. Ask the admissions office of a prospective school to help you connect with doctors. Tell them you are interested in a super specific specialty (for me, I said vision therapy and pediatrics), and then emphasize how you would love to talk to an alum of that specific optometry school about their experience.
- Introducing yourself. When you call, say: “Hi, my name is ____, and I’m a pre-optometry student at OSU. I was wondering if I could talk to the doctor about shadowing them for at least a day?” Keep it short and sweet. As someone who has worked as a receptionist in an optometry office and was once on the receiving end of one of these calls, it is all about your tone. We can smell your fear. You must sound strong and confident – that is key. And then the receptionist will say something like, “oh, they’re with a patient right now but let me take your name and number and I’ll have them give you a call back.” And then 90% never will. So after a week, you call back and ask again. Prepare to be rejected. And that is okay. It’s not a big deal. Just go call someone else.
- Call, call, call. It’s seriously just a numbers game. That’s it. Call EVERY SINGLE OFFICE, starting with the more interesting looking ones, and then go from there. I kept a spreadsheet of all the places I contacted. It was so satisfying to be able to fill in the boxes as green for yes, gray for no, and yellow for in progress.
- The first few calls you make may be terrifying, but it will undoubtedly get easier with practice. Email may sometimes work too, but calling just seems more professional and personable. It is harder to say no to a real, breathing person on the other end of the line than a few words on a screen.
Try to get a variety of different settings and modes of practice. Everyone practices a little differently, and it has been absolutely delightful to witness how doctors’ unique personalities and backgrounds all contribute to how they interact with patients and go about their day. I shadowed at a corporate office, several solo-owned private practices, and a couple of group practices as well. I also hit up a VA, two vision therapy centers, and a cataract and LASIK surgery center with an OD/MD type of arrangement.
Take notes on everything. If you don’t feel comfortable carrying a little notebook with you, make sure to brain-dump all of your impressions and experiences the moment you get home.
Select the first few places you shadow wisely, since that is where your first impression will be made. Of course, while it’s good to shadow highly-rated, successful practices, it can be just as valuable to see how a not-so-great practice is run.
When choosing practices, pay attention to the hours they are open. I have noticed an interesting trend: the longer the hours, the less successful the practice. A place with longer, weirder hours tends to have to work harder to get patients, but if a doctor is in higher demand, they can have more regular hours and fit people into their schedule however they want to. Also, make sure to check out the website, see how up to date it is. Although you can’t always judge a book by its cover or a frame by its brand or a physician by their website, it is generally a good indicator of how many resources and interest the doctor has in keeping up with the times. If a doctor won’t even update their website, why would they bother updating their technology or keep up with the latest research?
Remember: You are smart and deserving of shadowing at every single one of these places. As with anything else, the way you view yourself is how other people learn to see you and treat you, so put yourself out there and present yourself as the capable and confident future doctor that you are. Keep your eyes on the prize (pun definitely intended) and be aggressive about chasing down these opportunities until every doctor in this town knows your name.
Good luck, my fellow future optometrist! Shadowing is one of the easiest ways to boost your application, and setting it up is often the hardest part. Do not hesitate to reach out to me or any of our other wonderful exec board members if you have any questions!