How to Gain Experience Shadowing a Nurse

Shadowing a nurse is an excellent way to gain experience in the field of nursing and understand the inner workings. Here are some options for getting involved in nurse shadowing, questions to ask, and tips for maximizing your learning potential.

two nurses looking at clipboard

The nursing field is expansive, and it might seem difficult to gain the necessary experience to feel prepared. An excellent way to gain experience is by shadowing a nurse at a nearby facility. Whether you are deciding if applying to nursing school is the right step or are already in nursing school and exploring various specialties, nurse shadowing can provide you with the resources you need.

Nurse shadowing opportunities vary, but they are usually offered to those seeking entrance to a nursing program or who are actively in nursing school. The nurse you shadow often serves as a mentor, so the facility may simply want you to demonstrate an interest in the field.

A typical day in the life of a nurse can vary, and a day as a nurse shadower can also vary. You will follow your nurse, helping with any tasks they ask of you, taking notes, and asking questions. Many facilities allow you to personalize your experience. For example, if you are interested in working with babies, you may request to shadow in the labor and delivery or neonatal wards. If you want a vast array of experiences, you can make a different shadowing arrangement each week.

These experiences will help you find your passion in nursing, but they will also help you develop your professional skills and knowledge base. By the time you begin your clinical rotations, you will already be comfortable in the hospital setting.

Now that you understand what nurse shadowing is and how it will help you in your future academic and career endeavors, here are a few options for how to get started:

Research Shadowing Openings

Nurse shadowing functions like an internship or mentorship, so there are sometimes openings and forums that you can find online. Look into hospitals and clinics in your area to see if anything catches your interest.

Make sure that you also research health care facilities beyond those with listings. In particular, look for hospitals or centers with Magnet status, indicating that the facility is an excellent workplace and attracts highly skilled nurses. When employees are content in their positions, the quality of patient care is higher. As a nurse shadower, you want to observe quality care and receive a positive nursing experience.

nursing students in classroom

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Contact Health Care Facilities

If you have found one or more facilities that interest you, call the human resources department to ask if they offer any nurse shadowing opportunities and if you would be eligible. Discuss with them why you would like to shadow and which specialties you hope to experience.

Many hospitals and veteran nurses appreciate you reaching out, as it shows intentionality and commitment to learning. They want to build relationships with individuals early on in their nursing journey. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself. The worst they could say is no.

Pursue Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering is another excellent way to get a foot in the door. Medical facilities can use an extra set of hands now more than ever. This is a way to gain experience and confidence and help you build relationships. You may encounter a nurse from whom you would like to learn more, and if they are interested as well, you can work with that nurse to arrange for you to shadow them.

Ask Nurses You Know

nurse speaking with doctor in hospital

Networking is an essential skill in the professional world, and it starts long before you graduate. If you have a nurse in your life or know someone who does, reach out and see if they would let you shadow them. Every nurse had a mentor or preceptor who helped them, and most are happy to pass on their knowledge.

Even if the nurses you know can’t take on a nurse shadower, they may know someone who can. Don’t be afraid to ask around and get your name out there. It may pay off in ways you didn’t expect.

Questions to Ask When Shadowing a Nurse

You are there to learn and work, so it is important to ask questions to fully understand what the nurse is doing, why they are doing it, and how you can participate. Some examples of the type of questions you should ask include:

  • How many patients do you usually see in a day?
  • What is your favorite part of what you do?
  • What is the toughest thing you have faced as a nurse?
  • What was your process in treating this patient?
  • How do you approach interacting with different types of patients?

While questions can vary from broad inquiries about their work to specific questions about treatment decisions, be sure to stay curious and attentive.

Tips for Nurse Shadowing

As you begin shadowing a nurse, you should be equipped for what will come. You now know what to expect, but there are a few additional things to prepare for before your first day.

Take Notes

Write down anything and everything that stands out or that you find helpful. You will have many notes by the end of nursing school, but what you learn in a practical setting is more valuable than you know, so make sure to have a record of your experiences.

You will also have a lot of information thrown at you in a short time. Taking notes will help you revisit important information later on.

Conduct Yourself Professionally

You are working in the hospital or facility in a professional capacity and, as such, should conduct yourself accordingly. Behave professionally, be humble, and dress appropriately (correct uniform, hair pulled back, etc.). You will likely list your nurse as a reference for future positions or work there during clinicals or as a nurse professional if it is a good fit. So, you will want to make a good impression.

Nurse walking through hallway

Pack Any Essentials

Ask your nurse if there are any additional materials you need to obtain, such as scrubs. In addition, bring along plenty of water, some nutritious snacks, and comfortable walking shoes. Being equipped for the day will demonstrate consideration and be good practice for clinicals and your career.

Does experience in shadowing a nurse spark your interest? Many nursing programs are looking for passionate people like you to apply. Fill out our online form today, and we will connect you with nursing programs near you that meet your criteria.