10 Effective Ways to Find Nurse Practitioner Shadowing Opportunities

Written By: Andrea Mosher, CPNP, PMHS

Are you looking to stay in the nursing field but think you want more freedom and responsibility? Are you considering becoming a nurse practitioner but have too many questions to count? No matter the stage of your career that you are in, it can be intimidating deciding whether or not you want to be a nurse practitioner.

If only there were a way to see what a day in the life of a nurse practitioner looks like before you take the plunge. Well, you are in luck! There are ways to test drive the role of a nurse practitioner. It is called shadowing. However, the next challenge is how to find a nurse practitioner shadowing opportunity. So, here are 10 effective ways to find nurse practitioner shadowing opportunities.

What Is Nurse Practitioner Shadowing?

What in the world is nurse practitioner shadowing? It is honestly precisely what it sounds like; it is a job shadowing opportunity. You act as a nurse practitioner’s shadow for a day or a few shifts depending on your agreement.

During a shadow experience, you will follow a nurse practitioner around and watch assessments, procedures, and administrative duties that are part of a nurse practitioner’s role. Regardless of your training level, however, you will not work directly with the patients on your own. Nonetheless, you will get a first-hand understanding of what happens in the daily life of a nurse practitioner.


Why Shadow A Nurse Practitioner?

Shadowing a nurse practitioner is a vital portion of your research and your decision-making process. Honestly, it should be one of the first steps in your decision-making process. Understanding what your day-to-day would look like before selecting a specialty, finding an NP school, and applying to NP school can save you a lot of trouble if becoming an NP isn’t right for you.

A shadowing experience does not only give insight into the role and responsibilities of a nurse practitioner. Shadowing also shows the working relationship between a nurse practitioner and other healthcare workers, the challenges they face regularly, and the rewarding experiences. You can also learn what is necessary to stay certified and how a nurse practitioner can stay updated on current medical topics.

Additionally, shadowing a nurse practitioner is a great way to get some experience in a different specialty than where you practice if you are currently working in the medical field. For example, a medical-surgical nurse could shadow a women’s health nurse practitioner to see if that is an area of interest before making any career moves. I say career moves because it is highly suggested that nurses work in the specialty that they would like to pursue as an advanced practice registered nurse.

Shadowing a nurse practitioner can also help you in your NP school interview. When interviewing for a program, the interviewer wants to know that they are selecting the right match for their program. Having experience in the specialty that you are interviewing shows the interviewer that you are not only serious about your selection, but you also took the initiative to investigate how you would fit into that specialty.


(Here are 10 effective ways to help you find opportunities to shadow a Nurse Practitioner.)

1. Call Area Hospitals and Clinics

If you don’t have any contacts in your close acquaintances that you could ask to shadow, start by calling area hospitals and clinics. When you call, start by asking if they allow shadowing opportunities and who to contact to set up a shadow. Also, it is essential to check to make sure they have the nurse practitioner specialty you are looking for.

I would suggest calling smaller area hospitals and clinics if possible. Larger hospitals and clinics typically have more specialties and providers, but they also come with more red tape when getting a nurse practitioner shadowing opportunity. Also, following a nurse practitioner at smaller facilities can lead to connections at more extensive facilities, cutting right through the red tape.

2. Call Your Own Doctor’s Office

If your doctor’s office or your children’s doctor’s office has a nurse practitioner in the specialty you are looking into, call them to see if they offer nurse practitioner shadowing opportunities. As their patient, they may say no due to HIPAA concerns, but they may be able to connect you to another clinic for an experience.

If the office agrees to allow you to shadow, contact the human resources department to see what is required for a nurse practitioner shadowing opportunity. Most clinics require some HIPAA training and paperwork for legal purposes.

3. Contact Local NP Schools

Some NP schools offer nurse practitioner shadowing programs. Contact your local and online NP schools to see what they offer. Schools typically provide programs if you are currently in nursing school or a pre-health program. Besides, NP schools can also have contact with alumni that offer nurse practitioner shadowing opportunities.

Additionally, some NP schools set up clinical sites for their students so they may be able to provide contact information to clinics and nurse practitioners who are more open to students and shadows.

4. Call Family and Friends for Connections

Are you striking out finding a shadowing opportunity? Ask your family and friends if they have any connections with clinics or nurse practitioners. You may be surprised by how many contacts you have! Even if your family members or friends don’t work in the medical field, ask them.

When reaching out to a nurse practitioner through a friend or family member, be sure to introduce yourself and who your common connection is. It is also beneficial to have your connection reach out before you to ensure it is ok to pass on their contact information.

5. Visit Local Clinics

You have called and emailed several clinics and haven’t heard anything back. It is probably not because the office doesn’t offer shadowing opportunities. It is most likely because the staff is busy. Drop into the clinic you are interested in and ask the receptionist about a nurse practitioner shadowing opportunity. You may get lucky, and someone may be available to discuss setting up an experience. If not, you can offer to wait or ask to set up a meeting.

Going into an office versus calling or emailing them tends to provide more fruitful results because non-patient calls tend to get lost in the shuffle of the clinic’s day-to-day business. Additionally, by going into the office, you may be able to get all of the pre-requisite paperwork and training done, speeding up the process of your shadowing experience.

6. Ask Fellow Nurses for Connections

If you work in the medical field, you are already ahead of the game. Fellow nurses or medical staff you know or work with may have connections to clinics or nurse practitioners. The medical community is vast, but it can also be a small world.

Similar to making connections through family and friends, it is wise to ask before sharing contact information. Again, when calling, introduce yourself and let the nurse practitioner know who your mutual connection is. Let the nurse practitioner know you are looking for a shadowing opportunity and the duration you would like the shadow experience to be.

7. Check Nursing Forums and Blogs

There are numerous online nursing forums and blogs. Check out a few based on the specialty you are interested in and see what connections you can make. You can write a post in a forum asking for references or if anyone is offering shadowing opportunities. If a blog or forum has social media pages, look into any resources or posts that may lead you to a shadowing opportunity.

If the blogger does not live in the area where you are, email them anyway. Ask if they have any information about shadowing opportunities in your specialty or in your area specifically.

8. Volunteer First

Find local volunteer opportunities at hospitals and clinics. Offering to volunteer not only helps out the facility but is also a sure-fire way to get your foot in the door. As a volunteer, you may work directly with a nurse practitioner that you would like to shadow, making your connection easy to make. However, if you do not work directly with the NP you want to follow, volunteering can provide closer access to approach them.

In addition to providing connections for nurse practitioner shadowing opportunities, volunteering at hospitals and clinics is a great networking tool when looking for a job in the medical field.

9. Check Nursing Associations and Groups

Similar to nursing forums and blogs, there are a plethora of nursing associations and groups. Most often, these groups can have a specific specialty. Find a group based on the specialty that you are interested in and reach out.

10. Check Out Internship Opportunities

Medical facilities offer internship opportunities to current nursing and pre-health program students. Cash in on these opportunities because some of them are paid! Internship opportunities provide you with the experience you may be looking for and give the connections to nurse practitioners you can shadow.

9 Ways To Make The Most Of Your Nurse Practitioner Shadowing Experience?

There are many ways to make the most of your nurse practitioner shadowing experience. Even though this is a shadowing experience and you are only supposed to follow the nurse practitioner through their day, you must remember this is a learning experience. It is going to take some effort on your part as well.

1. First and foremost, ask questions! If a nurse practitioner has volunteered to let you shadow them, they expect that you will have lots of questions. Discuss before the day starts whether they would prefer you hold your questions until the end or if you can ask them throughout the day. If they are open to questions throughout the day, I would recommend not asking them during patient encounters; if they prefer to have the questions at the end of the day and have a debriefing session, ask for paper and pen to write your questions down.

2. This experience is to help you decide how you would ldike to spend your future, do not be afraid of asking a silly question. This is your time to find out what a nurse practitioner does. If you don’t work in the medical field yet, we understand that there will be many foreign concepts. Even if you work in the medical field, we know that you may have different experiences and may not be familiar with everything.

3. Make sure you shadow a nurse practitioner in the specialty that you would like to work in. Don’t just shadow anyone that you get in contact with. Yes, we can extrapolate from our own experiences what it is probably like to work in another specialty. Still, it isn’t enough information for you to make a life-altering decision.

4. Be upfront with the person you are shadowing. I had a high school student follow me to see if she would like the role of a nurse practitioner versus a physician. She came prepared with plenty of questions and let me know beforehand what her interest was. Having that information prior to her nurse practitioner shadowing experience helped me point out similarities and differences between our responsibilities. This allowed my shadow to get the most out of one shadow experience.

5. When shadowing, dress in business casual attire unless otherwise specified by the nurse practitioner you are following. Not only is business casual appropriate dress for a clinic, but you also do not want to show up in a casual outfit and feel distracted by being underdressed for your nurse practitioner shadowing experience.

6. Don’t be offended if a patient refuses to let you join the nurse practitioner during their visit. Some patients are not open to others being in the room during their appointment. They may have personal medical issues to discuss that are embarrassing to them, or they may only trust and feel comfortable with their provider. It is nothing against you as a shadow. Take this time to think of questions or discussion points to go over with the nurse practitioner.

7. If the occasion arises, offer to look up information or do a task for the nurse practitioner. If a paper needs filing or they need to ask their nurse or receptionist a question, offer to do it for them. This gesture may help them out tremendously.

8. Take Notes! Obviously, you can’t write down any patient identifying material, but write down things you learned and things you would like to learn more about. Also, take note of the positive things and the negative things that you noticed about the role. Having this information helps you gauge any deal-breaking responsibilities or tasks that you aren’t interested in.

9. Pay attention if something isn’t going as per plan. We all know in the medical field that things don’t always go as expected. This is a great time to focus on how the nurse practitioner and staff react. It gives insight into what you may experience in the future. It is also a good learning experience on how to rectify a similar situation.

4 Things You Should Not Forget To Do Post-Completion Of Your Nurse Practitioner Shadowing Experience

1. After your nurse practitioner shadowing experience, be sure to take note of your experience. Write down things you liked, things you didn’t like, and things that you learned. Visualizing the pros and cons of the role is helpful when deciding whether the role is right for you. Additionally, having notes based on your experience can be beneficial in your graduate school interview. It is an excellent indicator that you are taking this role change seriously and can help you appropriately describe why you would be a good candidate for an NP program.

2. More often than not, if you are shadowing someone, they agreed to offer the job shadow, so do not feel as if you are a burden to them, but it is appropriate for you to show your appreciation. After completing your nurse practitioner shadowing, send a thank you to the nurse practitioner. It is essential to let them know that you appreciate their effort in taking a shadow and changing the flow of their day-to-day to accommodate your learning experience.

3. Follow up with the nurse practitioner with any additional questions. A job shadowing experience is a lot to digest in just one day. You will most certainly forget to ask questions or develop further questions after reviewing your notes and reflecting on your experience. Do not be afraid to reach out and ask them!

4. Depending on the duration of your nurse practitioner shadowing experience, you can ask for a letter of recommendation or ask for referrals to additional healthcare professionals to shadow. I would only suggest this if you shadowed for more than a few shifts.

My Final Thoughts

The world of nursing is a vast place; there are innumerable directions that your career can go. So, with any career decisions, it is essential to research and weigh your options thoroughly. The most helpful research comes from experience beyond what you can read online or in books.

It is crucial to take advantage of nurse practitioner shadowing opportunities when deciding if you would like to go to NP school. Do not be intimidated by the task of how to find a nurse practitioner shadowing opportunity. By using these 10 effective ways to find nurse practitioner shadowing opportunities, you will make your search easier. Additionally, you may find the perfect opportunity at a location you may not have previously thought about.

Andrea Mosher, CPNP, PMHS
Andrea Mosher, CPNP, is a primary care pediatric nurse practitioner with a variety of nursing experience. She has worked in medical-surgical, emergency departments, urgent care and primary care pediatrics.