Different, but both important.
Clinical observation, or shadowing, is not the same thing as volunteering. Volunteering may sometimes place you in a setting that could allow for both shadowing and hands-on service opportunities, but they do not serve the same purpose….and just being in the building while patient care is being administered is not the same. Volunteering is the hands-on, unpaid delivery of time and services. Shadowing, on the other hand, is the concentrated observation of a healthcare professional as they provide care to patients or clients in a clinical setting, such as a hospital, clinic, assisted living/care facility, private practice, etc. Through clinical observation experiences, you see what the day-to-day responsibilities of a given health career might involve within that respective healthcare setting. Shadowing a variety of health professionals is always encouraged when possible.
Anytime you shadow or volunteer, it’s best to ask if there is anything you can do to help that would still allow you to be around the patients and the healthcare profession; for example, and this is particularly true of UNC Hospital volunteering, filing paperwork is not the most useful experience. That approach holds true even in non-healthcare volunteer settings. If you are volunteering in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, it would be best to be out front serving food and mingling with the guests.
by: Resa K. Brinkley, MPA
Health Professions Advising Coordinator