A Nurses Guide: Shadow Days

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Matt Soladay

Matt Soladay

Whether you are interested in becoming a Nurse, Nurse Practitioner, CRNA, or other, shadowing is an essential part of career development. It allows you to learn more about a particular area of interest, typically a career path you are considering pursuing. This observation day enables you to gain valuable free information to aid in your decision-making for future education and job choice.  The biggest benefit is learning what you want to do in the future and, equally as important, what you don’t want to do.  I had several shadow days during undergrad as well as when I was a bedside ICU nurse, and I noticed immediately which roles I enjoyed and which I could never see myself doing.  It made my decision to pursue my specialty clear, so I was confident I was making the right choice.

How To Find A Nurse To Shadow

First, you need to find a nurse to shadow. Here is the list of steps to follow in order to find a connection:

  1. Identify the nurse position(s) that interest you and make a list of all the degrees or types of programs that you want to explore. For me, it was CRNA and a Critical Care NP. 
  2. Identify where these types of nurses work, either at your current workplace or another location in your geographical area.
  3. Begin contacting someone you have a personal connection in this position or someone you know who has a connection in the field. If you don’t know anyone in the specialty, you can ask for an introduction to be made by one of your friends or colleagues. Almost every nurse who shadows me is through personal relationships and not through my department/HR.
  4. If you have no connections or they don’t work out, then it’s time to email the managers for the departments or units that interest you the most.

Preparing For A Shadow Day

Now that you have found someone to shadow, you can begin preparing for your Shadow Day. First, identify all the days off that you have available to shadow so that you can provide the list immediately upon request. And make it your goal to shadow more than one person in a particular role that you are considering. There is tremendous variation between the individual provider, their position, and their practice environment.  Ex: an NP or CRNA in a small community hospital may have a very different role than their counterpart in a clinic or a large academic medical center.  Next, make a list of all the questions you want to ask, and don’t hesitate to pull out the list (on a sheet of paper, not your phone) to reference during your day.

You would be surprised how many connections people have all over the country, including grad school programs.  Make sure to be on time (which means early) to your opportunity, pay attention, ask thoughtful questions, and keep your phone and smartwatch away.  Whoever is setting up your shadow day or agreeing to be shadowed is taking their own time and energy to help you.

Questions To Ask When Shadowing a Nurse

Below is a list of questions to consider asking throughout your shadow day. You might go into your shadow day confident this is the career path for you, only to find out it is way different than you expected. And that’s ok. Tailor your questions so you have a better understanding of what the job entails and if it is the right fit for you.  

  1. What do you like most about your job?
  2. What do you like least about your job?
  3. Why did you become a (insert specialty)?
  4. What does a typical day look like for you?
  5. What is the work-life balance like?
  6. Is there anything you would have done differently if you were to go through nursing or grad school again?
  7. Are there any other specialty areas to consider or people that you recommend I contact for additional shadow opportunities?
  8. Do you have any recommendations on how I can improve as an applicant?
  9. What should I look for in a graduate program?

After your shadow day has come to an end, send a thank you note/email to the person you shadowed, letting them know how much you appreciate their time and how valuable the experience was. If you need a letter of recommendation, you can also request this in the thank you note.

Letters of Recommendation for Nursing Grad School 

Many graduate programs require a letter of recommendation from someone who works in your future specialty, and commonly, this person is someone you shadowed. The better the impression you make, the more willing they may be to write you a letter.  If you plan to ask for a letter of recommendation from the person you shadowed, always offer to shadow again if that aids in writing one for you and send your CV or Resume to help give them more information.

Shadowing to gain knowledge, experience, and exposure to the specialty areas that interest you is necessary, especially if you are pursuing graduate programs. Financially, it’s a free resource but certainly requires your time and effort to organize the opportunities, but it is well worth it! Shadowing will help you choose and pursue the advanced practice degree that is best for your career, and ultimately, your life. 

What was your shadow experience like? Tell us in the comments below…

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Chloe N
Chloe N
1 year ago

Matt, I loved reading this post! I think you offered some really great questions that someone could ask when shadowing a CRNA/NP. My shadow experiences with you have been the best – it’s so awesome to see how much you love what you do and enjoy the team you work with.

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