13 Important Questions to Ask A Nurse Practitioner When Shadowing

Written By: Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC

Are you thinking about becoming a Nurse practitioner (NP)? Are you already a nurse practitioner (NP) student looking to learn the ins and outs of the practice? Lucky for you, this article will explain what questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing so that your future career can benefit from the experience. Being prepared with a list of questions to ask during your shadowing experience is crucial to learning the most from a current professional.

Knowing what questions are pertinent and will highlight your excitement and dedication to being an NP will allow you to understand the opportunities, roles, and obstacles that come with this profession. Shadowing can also help you build a professional network and gain valuable relationships with mentors and peers. This article lists 13 important questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing with explanations of why it is so important that you ask them.



I never shadowed a nurse practitioner before I went to NP school, but I lived with an FNP, so I was bombarding her with questions all the time anyways. By asking a lot of questions I was able to envision myself as an NP and start seeing what type of clinician I would be, long before I became one. There are several reasons why it is important to have questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing, but the top three are:

1. To learn about how nurse practitioners make clinical decisions:

It’s of course important that you will learn how to make clinical decisions in school, and if you are already a registered nurse (RN) you may have some insight into this already. However, this is not the same as shadowing an NP and seeing the clinical decision-making process in action. Seeing how NPs make clinical decisions can help you envision what your day-to-day life as an NP will be like, and how you can provide patient-centered and safe care.

2. Learn what may be missed in class:

The professors at your NP school are going to be skilled NPs with plenty of real-world experience to share with you. However, sometimes (and maybe you have experienced this before) professors forget what it’s like to be a student. They also may not be practicing as much clinically as they used to. By asking questions when shadowing a nurse practitioner you can have a little more control over what you are learning clinically. You can carry this knowledge back to the classroom when you start.

3. To develop your professional skills:

Asking specific questions about patients and another NP’s practice will give you a great headstart in thinking and operating professionally as an NP. You can get insider information on patient conditions, how to build rapport with patients, and how to navigate challenging clinical and professional situations. This will help strengthen your didactic experience as you will waltz into NP school already having some professional NP skills.


(The following are the 13 most important questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing.)

QUESTION #1: What inspired you to become a nurse practitioner, and how did you get started in your career?

Why Ask This Question:

This question is an excellent way to break the ice and learn about the personal and professional background of the NP you are shadowing. It can also help you understand the different paths people travel to become an NP. This question is one of the important questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing. Answers that are given will provide an understanding of what motivations and inspirations lead one to become a nurse practitioner, what career path suits them, and how these influences have shaped their professional career.

These answers can also set the stage for your career revelations and set you on the path to a healthcare role that allows you to thrive. Additionally, learning about the NP's personal experiences can help aspiring NPs develop empathy and a patient-centered approach to healthcare delivery. Asking questions about how NPs started their careers will give you valuable insight into the industry, what inspires NPs, and what creates a successful healthcare provider.

My friend who I lived with had worked as an RN before becoming an NP. She wanted more autonomy and hoped to one day open her practice, and she now has! Before deciding to become an NP I asked her questions like "If you could choose a health career path again, would you choose differently?" Her answer was simple: Absolutely not.

I also asked a doctor friend about her path to becoming a doctor and what she thought of the NP role. For me, this solidified my decision. She said she did not regret her decision and she would do it all again if she had to. However, she said all of her NP friends loved their jobs. They had excellent work-life balance, and they didn’t miss out on a decade of socializing and building other aspects of their life like she felt she had while she was in med school and residency.

QUESTION #2: What does your day-to-day look like?

Why Ask This Question:

If you're reading this article you are probably wondering what your future as an NP might look like. What better way to find out than shadowing an NP? One of the most important questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing is what their typical workday looks like. This will not only give you insight into what their responsibilities and workload are, but also into if what you see when shadowing, is typical for them, or a bit of an outlier.

Asking this question will help you prepare for being an NP while also giving you a more holistic and accurate picture of what you will be doing day to day. Plus, you will gain some insight into the scope of practice and how an NP might navigate certain practice-related challenges in their daily work. Hopefully shadowing an NP will help you feel less anxious showing up to your first clinical rotation.

QUESTION #3: Can you tell me about your collaborative approach to care?

Why Ask This Question:

One of the most important components of your NP career will be collaboration. I would not have made it through half of the clinical situations I encountered as an NP if I did not know how to collaborate with my time and with whom to do it and when.

This is why this is one of the important questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing. Not to sound cliché, but everyone has strengths and weaknesses. One of the great benefits of working collaboratively is that you will be able to leverage their strengths and learn from your colleagues to deliver top-quality healthcare.

Healthy collaboration will of course depend on your personality traits, communications skills, as well as who is on your team. However, you can get ahead of the game and learn some pro tips by asking the NP you shadow if they can tell you a bit about their collaborative approach to care. Whether it's picking the brain of a colleague, referring a patient, asking to be taught something, or asking for a second opinion, collaboration is beneficial to everyone.

QUESTION #4: Can you tell me about one of your first challenging cases as an NP and how you navigated it?

Why Ask This Question:

Does anyone here watch Grey's Anatomy? I know no medical TV program is super accurate, but this was an all-time favorite of mine while in NP school. I dreamt of the variety of cases I might see once clinical practice started.

Asking a nurse practitioner about their most challenging cases and how they managed them is one of the important questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing. Even better is if they can remember a case from when they were a newbie green NP - it will be more relatable to you.

Listening to an NP's story about a challenging case and how they navigate it can show you all the intersecting complexities of healthcare delivery. By asking this question you're asking them to walk you through one of their personal case studies. You will get to see how as a new NP they managed to put their critical thinking, problem-solving, and clinical skills to the test.

The best scenario will be if they can also show you what they could have done differently. Being able to reflect on your experiences and learn from them is what will make you a truly great NP.

Now, don’t forget to keep this question in your back pocket. When you graduate, I can guarantee you will be asked at an interview to talk about a challenging case you had during your clinical rotations.

QUESTION #5: What clinical diagnoses and scenarios do you see the most?

Why Ask This Question:

Of all the questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing, I’d say this is one of the most important. As an NP you will likely see an immense variety of clinical cases (unless you immediately start working in a specialty clinic). Asking a nurse practitioner whom you shadow what types of cases they see in a day will allow you to go into your didactic courses recognizing what topics are going to be super relevant to your clinical work.

Asking this question may elicit different answers depending on the patient population as well. For example, if the NP you shadow works in a rural and underserved area, they may see many more rare cases that are not as common among patients with better access to preventive care.

Social determinants of health impact everyone. So it’s not just about the diagnoses. Asking the NP you shadow to elaborate on scenarios in general that they see will show you how themes such as family, religion, education, income, language, and culture intersect to influence health.

QUESTION #6: How do you continuously provide evidence-based practice?

Why Ask This Question:

Evidence-based practice (EBP) is when the care that we provide and the clinical decisions we make are informed by research. A huge part of being an NP will be staying on top of the latest EBP and ensure that you continue to provide care that is not outdated, but how do you stay up to date? This is why asking how NPs continuously provide EBP is one of the top questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing.

UpToDate was my favorite and it was also the favorite among my NP colleagues. The catch is that it’s expensive if the institution where you practice doesn’t provide you with access. Some other favorites of mine are the CDC STI treatment guide app and the American Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology (ASCCP) app for cervical cancer screening. These are super easy and handy to use even when you’re in the exam room.

QUESTION #7: How do you provide patient-centered education and counseling?

Why Ask This Question:

Of the questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing, asking about how they tailor their education and counseling to each patient is important.

If you are not able to meet patients where they are, engage them in a meaningful way, and educate them at the level they need for them to collaborate in caring for their health, then it will negatively impact your patient outcomes because they will be less likely to adhere to the care plan. What better way to figure out how to engage, educate, and counsel your diverse patients than by asking a pro how they do it themselves?

QUESTION #8: How do you approach pain management with patients?

Why Ask This Question:

A recurring challenge in healthcare is pain management. Asking the NP you are shadowing about how they manage their patient’s pain will in turn allow you to develop skills and have a better understanding of ethical considerations at play.

We live in a society of instant gratification where we can toss a pill at everything. We know this, and our patients know this. However, pain is real, and it can be incredibly hard to detect, monitor, and manage. It is debilitating to patients and can greatly impact their quality of life. What's more, the over-prescription of opioids has led to one of the worst epidemics of our lifetime.

By asking this question, the NP you shadow will be able to share with you what has and has not worked for them. Every patient and situation is unique so you will be able to enter your practice as an NP with some ideas on how to approach pain management from a holistic, evidence-based, and compassionate perspective.

QUESTION #9: What does cultural sensitivity/competency mean to you and how do you incorporate it into your practice?

Why Ask This Question:

Being culturally sensitive and being able to meet your patient's unique linguistic needs are key aspects of providing patient-centered care. By asking an NP what they think of cultural sensitivity and how they incorporate it, you will be able to learn how to navigate barriers that the healthcare system poses to people with diverse cultures and languages.

Culture plays a significant role in health beliefs, behaviors, and practices, and cultural sensitivity is essential for providing high-quality, patient-centered care, and thus asking about how to navigate it is one of the important questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing. Understanding how NPs approach cultural competency can help aspiring NPs develop the necessary skills and knowledge needed to provide effective care to patients from diverse backgrounds and promote health equity in their future practice.

QUESTION #10: How do you manage patient expectations?

Why Ask This Question:

I loved my patients. That doesn't mean that I didn't have to maintain some hard boundaries and manage expectations. As I mentioned, we live in a world full of instant gratification, and for many, the US healthcare system is no different. Managing patient expectations when they first meet you, have a new complaint, or receive a new diagnosis can be a challenge, but it is a skill worth developing.

I can recall a few patients who walked all over me when I was new. This wasn’t malicious on their part, they had just had experiences where they were able to dictate their care and treat test ordering like an all-you-can-eat buffet. They did not like when I would resist ordering unnecessary tests, but with patient-centered education and rapport building, I was able to manage their expectations.

Whether you are considering applying to an NP program or are already in one, you will need to become skilled in managing your patients' expectations and concerns. One of the best ways to learn how to do this is through practice and asking and observing others.

QUESTION #11: How do you manage the competing demands of your job such as patient care and administrative tasks?

Why Ask This Question:

Is anyone here a procrastinator? Welcome to the club! Procrastination can be a useful tool that helps you build the right amount of pressure to succeed, but prioritization and time management are critical skills for NPs, and understanding how they manage competing demands can help you develop your time management strategies.

When shadowing a nurse practitioner, it is important to ask how they prioritize patient care and manage competing demands, such as administrative tasks, documentation, and communication with other healthcare professionals.

By understanding how NPs manage competing demands, aspiring NPs can learn strategies for effective time management and gain insights into the complex nature of healthcare delivery. Additionally, understanding the importance of documentation and communication in healthcare can help NPs develop their communication and collaboration skills, not to mention the fact that documentation can be one of the most time-consuming things about being an NP.

QUESTION #12: What strategies do you use to promote health and lifestyle changes among your patients?

Why Ask This Question:

FNPs are at the forefront of primary care, which includes health promotion and disease prevention. Helping patients have healthier lifestyles may seem easy but have you ever tried to kick a bad habit of your own? If so, then you know even with the highest motivation changing habits can be challenging at best.

So how do you help your patients achieve healthier lifestyles and improved health? Well, this is one of the important questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing. An experienced NP will likely have some tricks up their sleeves and stories to back them up. Asking about strategies the NP you shadow uses in her daily practice to promote the health of their patients can help you learn how to connect with your patients so that you can help them achieve better health outcomes.

QUESTION #13: What does shared decision-making mean to you and how do you engage your patients in their care planning?

Why Ask This Question:

As both a patient and a provider I can tell you that I have been exposed to the hierarchy in medicine at one time or another. Have you ever seen a healthcare provider who made you feel like you didn’t know anything about your body? Perhaps they had the “my way or the highway” approach to care. None of this makes the patient feel cared for.

As an aspiring NP, you may think that part of effectively engaging patients is proving to them that you know what you are talking about. However, engaging them in an authoritarian way without including them in decision-making about their health, can do the opposite. If you can connect with and engage your patients in planning, they are more likely to trust you and be able to see your expertise.

Asking a nurse practitioner about their approach to shared decision-making and informed consent is important when shadowing because these practices are learned skills. Everyone has a different approach to them, and you will need to adapt to your patients. This also feeds into informed consent. If you have not educated a patient in a way that they can understand what they are consenting to and why, you have not provided informed consent, and that is a legal and ethical issue.

Asking the NP you shadow about shared decision-making can help you start to form your methods and will get your wheels turning before you even start NP school.


Shadowing an NP is a wonderful idea if you are considering becoming an NP, or already on your way to being one. Don’t let your shadowing experience go to waste though. Show up prepared with questions (and keep them in your back pocket since many of them might be interview questions for you later down the road).

Are you still wondering what questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing? Think about what information you are hoping to gather that you cannot get online or from people you already know. With these 13 important questions to ask a nurse practitioner when shadowing, we hope you can get a holistic picture of what it will be like for you both personally and professionally when you become an NP.

Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC
Lauren Jacobson is a registered nurse and women’s health nurse practitioner who is passionate about global health and gender-based violence prevention. She is Editor and an Advisory Board Member for the Global Nursing Caucus and volunteers with Physicians for Human Rights as a medical evaluator for asylum seekers.