EVANSTON, Ill. - More than 40 Northwestern University pre-med students will embark on a five-week physician-shadowing program this school year to gain a better understanding of physicians’ daily work and help the undergraduate students decide if a career in medicine will be a good fit.
The pilot program begins Oct. 5 as the first round of students boards Northwestern-provided transportation and heads to the Glenview Outpatient Center, where the shadowing program will take place.
“It’s for the students to ask, ‘Does this inspire me to spend the next 50 years working really hard or is this a good time to change course?’” said Dr. Micah Eimer, cardiology and medical director of the Glenview Outpatient Center.
Program participants will gain exposure to medicine through observation without direct hands-on clinical care. Students will observe Northwestern Medicine physicians’ typical workdays across a variety of medical specialties, including internal medicine, cardiology, urology and endocrinology.
Observing physicians in an outpatient center versus a hospital will allow students to see how doctors treat both sick patients and healthy patients who are getting routine check-ups, said José Ramón Fernández-Peña, director of Northwestern’s Health Professions Advising group.
Shadowing programs like this are rare across the country. This pilot program, facilitated by Northwestern’s Health Professions Advising group and Northwestern Medicine, is one of the first structured shadowing programs of its kind at the University.
Before now, students were encouraged to seek shadowing opportunities, but it was an “every-person-for-themselves” situation, said Eimer, who also is a health system clinician at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Students were left asking friends or family who had connections to physicians if they could shadow them, which is what Eimer said he did.
“I felt kind of lost,” Eimer said of his pre-med experience. “Nobody really tried to show me the way. I’m afraid this approach weeds out people who may leave pre-med because they don’t have the connections. The beauty of this new program is everybody has the same opportunity.”
Northwestern senior Lorna Sanchez said if it weren’t for this program, she wouldn’t be able to connect with doctors and see them interact with patients.
“Being able to walk around the clinic and see how doctors interact with patients, what problems they have to solve and the paperwork they have to do will be vital,” Sanchez said. “I won’t understand it until I actually see it.”
Sanchez will be shadowing a cardiologist – a major detour from her typical studies as a neurobiology student – but she is excited to be exposed to a new field. She also is looking forward to networking with other pre-med students on the ride to the outpatient center.
“We’ll be building more of a community because being pre-med at Northwestern is really hard and can be very competitive,” Sanchez said. “I’ll be able to talk to the other underclassmen who understand it’s hard. We won’t be just pretending we have it all together.”
Students aren’t the only ones who will benefit from the program, Eimer said.
“It’s amazing how you can be having a terrible day and then the student shows up, you start talking and you forget how terrible your day has been,” Eimer said. “Part of it is you remember how far you’ve come, and you realize how much you’ve learned since undergrad. The students’ level of enthusiasm and wanting to learn can be infectious.”
If the pilot program is successful, thehope is to continue it in the future and replicate the model at other Northwestern Medicine outpatient centers.
“This is a very rich opportunity and experience,” Fernández-Peña said. “We hope that the students will be able to develop a relationship that may be life long.”