What is networking?
Networking means building professional relationships with others. For pre-health students, networking can be associated with communicating with a variety of different individuals:
- Volunteer coordinators or employers who have different health related opportunities
- Admissions representatives at health professional schools of interest
- Academic professors or research PI’s who might write future letters of recommendation or have other opportunities for pre-health students
- Practicing health professionals, such as physicians, pharmacists, or dentists
To explore the health professions and learn more about a specific career path, many pre-health students will engage in shadowing and informational interviews.
What is shadowing?
Shadowing experience involves observing a professional while they work in order to learn about that particular profession. Students participating in shadowing are encouraged to spend time reflecting on what they are seeing and learning. Shadowing is unpaid. Pre-health students are sometimes required, and often encouraged, to use shadowing opportunities to learn more about the profession so they are confident in the decision to pursue the career path (Pre-Health Student Resource Center).
Steps to Shadowing:
1. Making Contact with a Health Professional
Do you (or someone you know) know of any health professionals or clinical locations you can contact ? If so, reach out to these individuals to see if they have any interest in hosting an observer! If you need help with what to say, see item #3 below.
2. Begin Researching Locations and Professionals
If you need help developing your network, you will want to begin outreach to other professionals.
First, you will want to develop a system to track the places you plan to outreach to, as well as the responses you receive. We suggest recording this information in a spreadsheet.
Google search for facilities/providers based on location, specialization, etc. Once you have found a location or individual that looks interesting, record their contact information. Be sure to identify multiple individuals/locations, as not all locations, departments, or health professionals will allow shadowing. For a list of hospitals in the Twin Cities metro, visit the Pre-Health Student Resource Center’s website. Additionally, some hospitals’ volunteer coordinators might be able to identify if their hospital has a formal job shadowing program or shadowing day.
3. Create a Phone/Email Script Template
Creating a template of what you plan to say in email or phone outreach can be helpful in preparing you to to contact health professionals. You should include information about who you are (student, school, major), why you are reaching out to them (the ability to shadow), your availability, and how they can reach you. Remember to brief, as health professionals are very busy; however, consider including your resume or other relevant experiences you have participated in.
4. Start to Call and/or Email
You will likely have to reach out to multiple locations before you get a firm “yes” to a request to shadow. If you do not hear back from an organization or contact within a week, it is appropriate to send a follow-up email or call again. However, you may have to search for new locations if your initial outreach is unsuccessful. Don’t get discouraged, this process can be challenging and may take time!
5. During Shadowing
Verify with your contact the appropriate attire to wear, arrive on time, and be actively paying attention when shadowing. Some health professionals may make time for you to ask follow-up questions about what you observed, so be prepared to ask questions.
6. After Shadowing
Be sure to record your reflections on the experience, as well as the number of hours you shadowed, as this information will be shared in your future applications to health professional school. Send a thank you by email or mail, including one or two things you learned from the experience. Furthermore, expect that the duration of all shadowing experiences will differ. Some health professionals will be open to you shadowing multiple times, but others will only allow shadowing once.
What is an informational interview?
An informational interview is a brief meeting with someone in a profession or an organization you want to explore. Instead of directly observing a professional in their environment of work, an informational interview will allow you to have a short conversation (typically 30 minutes) in person or over phone to ask questions about the profession of interest. If a professional is not able to host you for shadowing, this can be an opportunity for you to learn more about them and their profession.
Similar to shadowing, you should go about outreach to professionals in similar manner and provide the same type of information about yourself to contacted individuals (who you are, why you are reaching out to them, your availability, and how they can reach you.)
Sample questions to ask during an informational interview:
- What was your experience in health professional school like, and how did it compare to your undergraduate studies?
- What is a typical day on the job like?
- What do you enjoy or find most rewarding about your profession?
- What do you find to be the most challenging aspect about your profession?
- Why did you decide that you wanted to work in the health professions, and how did you pick your specific health profession?
- What skills do you think are most necessary for success in this profession?
- What experiences in your undergraduate education best prepared you to go into your health profession?
- Can you recommend any journals or professional organizations that would be helpful to learn more about your profession?
- What advice do you have for someone intending to go into this field?
- Based on my interests, can you suggest any other individuals I should contact for more information?
Informational interview best practices
During the informational interview, pay close attention to the clock to respect the professional’s time, and listen more than you speak. Also, an informational interview is not the time to ask for a job. At the end of the informational interview, be sure to thank the professional for taking time out of their busy schedule to speak with you.
After the informational interview, reflect on the experience to determine what next steps you might take. Be sure to send a thank you to the profession by email or mail, indicating what you learned from the experience.
Have questions, or need some advice? We invite you to set up a time to speak with a member of the CBS Career Team. You can do so online at https://cbsss.appointments.umn.edu/, or by calling CBS Student Services at 612-624-9717. In addition to answering any questions you may have, members of the Career Team are available to help with:
- Identifying individuals for informational interviews or shadowing
- Exploring health professions of interest
- Requesting informational interviews or shadowing experiences
- Reviewing questions to ask during informational interviews or shadowing and how to make the most of your experience