What is Shadow a Nurse Program?

shadow a nurse program

Many young people want to experience a career for a day or more before deciding to dedicate years of studying in college. That’s what a shadow a nurse program is all about, experiencing the career of nursing for a short time to see if it’s right for you.These types of programs are usually offered to high school students during their senior year. If you are not a high school student and would like to participate in this program, call the human resources department at your local hospital and inquire if they can arrange for you to shadow a nurse. Most hospitals are happy to oblige, since nurses are always needed and will be in more demand as years go by.

A day in the life of a nurse is a busy one. Shadow a nurse programs allow prospective nursing students to really see what nursing is all about. Hollywood tends to glamourize nursing as women and men with hair and makeup in place, as they’re portrayed taking care of the most challenging medical cases. Nursing is far from that. It’ hard work. You’re on your feet for many hours and will have to multitask different activities throughout your shift and then some more.

Patient Communication and Teaching

One of the most interesting part of the program may be communicating with patients. You won’t be allowed to administer medications or participate in their care, but you will be able to talk to them. Patients love talking to people who are interested in becoming nurses. They like discussing why they’re in the hospital and about their past experiences with healthcare. You’ll learn much from talking with a patient. Patient teaching is a vital part of nursing, you’ll most likely observe nurses instructing patients about their medications and updating them on medical issues. They also teach patients how to make healthier choices in life.

Observe different disciplines

There are many disciplines on a medical unit who work alongside nurses. Some other disciplines are respiratory therapist, physical and occupational therapist and speech therapist. You’ll have the opportunity to see how they all work together for one common goal, the health of the patient. You’ll also observe how disciplines interact with each other. Communication is vital in healthcare, disciplines have to communicate with each other in a professional manner so the outcome is a positive one and errors are avoided.

Benefits of a Shadow a Nurse Program

There are many benefits to a shadow a nurse program. You’ll have the opportunity to see nurses interact with patients and perform certain types of medical procedures such as administering medications, starting IV’s and changing surgical dressings. Many staff members will gladly answer questions and explain reasons for why certain procedures are performed. During the program, you’ll be required to wear scrubs or a lab coat which may be provided. You may even have to wear face shields depending on the type of unit you’ll be on. If you’re shadowing a nurse on a dialysis unit, you’ll have to wear a mask and face shields at times as a precautionary measure to prevent blood from splashing on you. This is a requirement for your protection and infection control. Your hair should also be pulled back from your face and remember to frequently wash your hands.

Arrive the same time as nurses

You’ll most likely have to arrive at the facility the same time staff does in the morning to get the most out of the experience. Depending on the type of medial unit you’ll be assigned to, you may have to arrive anywhere between 6 am to 7 am. Nursing shifts are mostly 12 hours long, where nurses work three days a week. Some shifts are 10 hours and nurses work four days a week and very few are 8 hour shifts where nurses work five days a week.

If you have the opportunity to work in a specialty area such as nephrology or a cardiac cath lab, you’ll only watch procedures specific to the specialty. If may be a good idea for you to shadow a nurse on a med/surg, critical care or emergency unit. This way you’ll have the opportunity to see many types of medical cases and procedures.

Charting is an important part of nursing

Charting is an integral part of nursing. The saying goes, “if it’s not documented, it wasn’t done.” Numerous law suits and legal issues have occurred because of poor or no documentation about patient care. You’ll have the opportunity to see how and where nurses document in patient’s charts. Many health care facilities are now using electronic health records, where all documentation is done on a computer. Electronic health records have shown to significantly reduce medication errors.

Determine how many days you need for the program

A Shadow a Nurse Program may be for only a day or it may be for a week or longer. The length of program depends on the institution and availability of nurses they have to participate. If you want to shadow a nurse for a certain amount of days, make sure to discuss it with human resources before making a commitment to the program.


After you’ve completed the shadow a nurse program, you may receive an evaluation from the nurse you shadowed, depending on institutional policy. You should also perform a self-evaluation. Did you enjoy the program? Was the nurse able to explain some of the procedures she performed or was she too busy with patient tasks and not able to spend as much time with you as you expected? Did you get a true sense of what it’s like to be a nurse and do you feel that this is the career for you? Do you think you can keep up with the busy pace of a nursing unit and take care of several patients with different diagnosis?

Career Advancements

If you’ve decided that you still want to be a nurse, remember that you’ll have many chances for career advancement. Many nurses start out as an associate degree nurse and work their way up the career ladder.After gaining basic nursing skills as a registered nurse, you’ll have opportunities to go back to school to pursue a career as an advanced practice nurse, such as a clinical nurse specialist or nurse practitioner, if you choose. You may even choose to work for a travel nurse agency and work in several different states during the year. Whatever you choose, know that nursing is one of the most respected and rewarding career with many exciting opportunities.

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Carrie Cronkite

Carrie has been a registered nurse for 14 years and works at a local hemodialysis outpatient center. She has experience in cardiac nursing, orthopedic rehabilitation and nephrology nursing. Carrie has been freelance writing for three years and has written many articles on nursing, health and wellness and exercise.

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