Does Scribing Count As Shadowing? (4 Major Things to Ask!)

Things are hotting up and it’s time to think about leveling up your med school application. But you’re faced with a dilemma; solid extracurriculars (shadowing) vs a chance of making money (scribing). So you want to know…

Does scribing count as shadowing?

Scribing does not count as shadowing. Shadowing is voluntary (usually unpaid) experience with little to no expectation. Scribing is a paid clinical role that generally counts for a lot more on a med school app.

But that’s not to say you should 100% devote your attention to scribing. Shadowing has plenty of upsides too. Some of which we’ll go into in this article.

Here’s what else we’ll cover:

  • If scribing counts as “good” clinical experience
  • What’s the better option between shadowing and scribing
  • How to best detail your scribing experiences to wow medical admissions

As a med student myself, I’m aware of how crazy the whole extracurricular process can be!

Ready to get started? Let’s go.

Does scribing count as clinical experience?

According to most med schools, scribing is held in similar regard to EMT jobs, shadowing and volunteering.

Princeton University Health Professionals describes it as a “paid position in which you follow doctors as they visit with patients and take notes for them.”

As scribing involves direct experience working with physicians, it counts as a clinical experience.

This video is a good demonstration on what scribing can look like…

Although the scribe in this example is able to observe a patient-doctor interaction, this isn’t always the case.

Not all scribing jobs are the same!

The amount of clinical experience they offer can depend on:

  • Actually following the physician on patient rounds (instead of completing data entry at a front desk)
  • How many hours you actually log as a scribe (the more, the better in terms of impressing med admissions)
  • How much else you learn about medical decision making and primary care
  • Which area (department/ward) you work as a scribe (i.e. trauma/hospitalists potentially getting more “action” than others)

The role is diverse. Sometimes a doctor might ask you to go check up on a patients condition multiple times per shift, other times your interaction with them can be minimal.

Just because the role is a clinical one doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get typical clinical experience.

So is scribing good clinical experience?

Despite the answer above, most scribing roles offer good clinical experience. Especially if it’s all you can get!

The fact the role, at its bare minimum, involves detailing patient-physician encounters is definitely better than no experience at all.

But obviously just “how good” it is depends on where you work and who you work for.

Some physicians might give you a bunch of extra responsibility, even expecting you to help with minimal procedures!

For the most part, the job is what you make it.

Show enthusiasm, professionalism and get really proficient at it, and here’s just a couple of things you might be allowed to do:

  • Get “extra guidance” from doctors teaching you about etiology, pathology and medical decision making etc.
  • Learn about the intricacies of the hospital/clinical system: observation vs inpatient etc.
  • Attend important meetings and interesting medical procedures
  • Network with other physicians and healthcare workers

But don’t always expect this to be the case.

Scribing Vs Shadowing: what’s better?

ProsCons
ScribingPaid clinical experience
Competitive
Hard work/difficult shifts
ShadowingEasier to arrange/get
Flexible
Voluntary/unpaid

Scribing and shadowing are fairly similar in the sense they involve hanging around a physician and watching them in action!

In terms of a med school application however; scribing can be the much better option.

It’s paid. It involves contractual obligations and responsibilities. Keeping the job involves professionalism and an ability to work with others in a healthcare setting.

These are the types of things that impress admissions boards!

Something that can give shadowing an edge however, is that it’s typically easier to get. Recruitment teams are under no obligation to pay you. And who doesn’t like the prospect of unpaid help!

So shadowing is useful when you don’t have the time, ability or luck to land a scribing job.

Related: 3 Best Paid Jobs For Pre Med Students (That Don’t Require Experience Or Training)

Is it hard to get a medical scribe job?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions in medical scribing are projected to fall slightly from their 2019 rate (58,500) to a projected 57,200 in 2029 (Source). So it’s likely just as difficult to find a medical scribe job now as it will be in the future.

Luckily there are plenty of organizations out there that make it relatively easy to find work in the field if you’re willing to be flexible.

Here are a couple of places I suggest looking:

  • ScribeAmerica
  • PhysAssist
  • ProScribe

How hard it is landing a job is usually dependent on how many large hospitals or clinics there are in your area.

But you’ll need to be able to commit for a year (to help off-set on-the-job training costs) to really be attractive. That’s one reason why scribing is often recommended as a great gap year job.

This video also has some good tips on landing jobs…

How to add scribing to your med school application

The best way to include scribing as relevant experience on your med school application is to sell exactly what it helped to teach you.

Here’s what most Adcoms like to look for in candidates:

  • That you understand what it is you’re getting into
  • That you understand the physicians role and what a “typical day” can look like
  • That you demonstrate altruism and a passion for helping others

Showing that your experiences scribing helped you tick all those boxes can be a great move.

But don’t just stop there. Try and your leverage your experiences scribing to network and shadow other physicians or healthcare professionals. Preferably in areas of medicine different to where you do your paid work.

This can help you develop a more diverse picture (and further your experience) of what it might be like to be a practicing physician.

And also give you more to talk about on application essays or interviews!

Summary: Is being a medical scribe worth it?

Finding work as a medical scribe can definitely help boost a med school application. It’s clinical, it sets you up for networking opportunities and it shows professionalism on your behalf. But you have to know how to really sell it on your application for it to truly stand out!

The best candidates, those that Adcoms really love, are those with a diverse range of experience and a solid understanding of the physicians role.

Fortunately there are many routes to that.

So definitely don’t forego shadowing, hospital volunteering or working as an EMT for the sake of becoming a scribe.

Just because it’s paid and counts as clinical work, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best!


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Image Credit: @MedicAlertUK at Unsplash