Shadowing a Veterinarian

Part One: Where to Start

By Paige Roth

Under the veterinary experience part of your application, you will often find some line that basically says, “You must, must, must shadow a veterinarian.” Of course, shadowing is a critical way to learn what the daily life of the doctor really looks like and to determine if the field is the right fit for you. It’s also a way to expose yourself to all different types of medicine – small animal, large animal, exotics, surgery etc. And for many, it can be the first step to a more regular position helping out in a clinic and gaining those coveted veterinary experience hours.

But how do you ask: “Can I please follow you around all day?” without revealing your true desperation or, as was my case when I started, total lack of relevant veterinary experience.

It helped me to remember that every single one of these vets has been in my shoes. In fact, several responded sympathetically, “Ah, I remember my shadowing days,” as if calling to mind former days of poverty, ramen and a life bound to the corner of the exam room trying not to breath for fear of breaking the vet’s concentration.

Many vet students had luck going door to door with their resumes – this is a great strategy to prove you are a real person and to look the receptionists in the eye so they can asses your earnestness. I, on the other hand, am rather shy and live in a huge city. Though probably less effective, I began with the email strategy. And while I can’t say it’s as favorable as the old-fashioned, in-person approach, it ultimately paid off.

Here’s what I did:

1. Make a list. Search for clinics in your area and gather contact info. Some may already have shadowing programs in place. I started with small clinics, so I would have more of a chance of my email being read, and with small animal clinics. Most of my experience has been with horses, so I really wanted to spend some time with small animal vets. I started with a LinkedIn search to find alums from my school who went on to veterinary school. In my case, this was a very short list, but the school connection is a great place to start and secured my first shadowing opportunity. Also, keep your list long and remember you probably won’t hear back from most practices. Don’t hesitate to follow up with a phone call.

2. Draft the email. Luckily, you can use a basic template for each shadowing request. However, I recommended adding a sentence or two with the specific reason you are interested in their practice. Also, attach your resume to help confirm that you are a serious applicant.

It could read something like this:

Dear Dr. _____,

My name is _____ and I am a student at _____ University hoping to apply to veterinary school in ____ year. I have completed many of my pre-requisite courses and am hoping to gain shadowing experience before applying. I learned about your practice through ____ and am very interested in learning more about (a few of the cool things they do). Would it be possible to shadow you/ a member of your staff sometime this month?

I have attached my resume for your review, but please let me know if you need any additional information. I would be so grateful for the opportunity to learn more about the work you do in ____ . I hope to hear from you soon.

Thank you in advance for your consideration!


______ (with your contact info)

3. Send a thank you note. If you do secure a shadowing opportunity, don’t forget to send a thank you note after the fact! Include some of the great stuff you learned and thank the vet for taking time out of his or her busy schedule to let you peak behind the curtain of the profession. More about what shadowing is really like to come in my next post.

Be prepared to shadow a variety of vets, especially if you are hoping to secure a more regular position. This has been one of the most validating parts of my veterinary application preparation to date, and while the reaching out initially may feel awkward, the pay off will definitely be worth it. In all likelihood, the experience will give you some needed motivation to keep on going and remind you why you started this whole process in the first place!

Stay tuned to learn more about what to expect while shadowing in my next post.


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