Best Practices When Shadowing Surgeons

March 15, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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One of the best ways to learn more about a career path is to spend a day, week, or month accompanying and observing an established professional in the position you are seeking.  This is also known as shadowing, and in the medical field, there is a clear advantage for those seekers who are able to obtain a shadowing experience. However, acquiring the opportunity and making the most of it are two difference things.  If you find surgery a compelling medical specialty, and you want to make the most of a shadowing experience, here are some best practices to keep in mind:

Professionalism At All Time:  In your surgery shadowing experience, you’ll want to present your most professional self at all times.  You might be a fashionista, but conservative is key when it comes to attire for your shadowing experience. Your dress demonstrates your understanding of the serious nature of the work of the medical profession.  It will demonstrate your respect for physicians, patients, and their families.  Additionally, employ your best manners in communication and interaction with the physicians you encounter in your shadowing experience.  While there is a time and place for humor within the medical field, your attention and observations of the environment in which you’re shadowing should be as professional as possible. Hold questions till the time seems right, and avoid interruption at all costs.  The last thing you’ll want to do is break your shadowing surgeon’s train of thought when s/he is preparing for a major procedure.

HIPAA Rules: Understand that your role as a shadow is to observe patient-physician interactions. You’ll be privy to conversations that you would otherwise not be able to access if you were not allowed to shadow.  Respecting the privacy and confidentiality of the patients that your surgeon sees is critical to a successful shadowing experience.  You will be asked to sign a HIPAA form committing to complete confidentiality of the conversations you hear and procedures that you witness.  HIPAA protects patients while providing you with an insightful window into the medical profession.

You Might Be Asked To Leave: Depending on the comfort level of the patients that your surgeon sees, you might be asked to leave an examination room or procedure room.  Though you want a complete shadowing experience, know that, as a shadow, your presence in the room might make a patient uncomfortable. Don’t be offended if you are asked to leave.  It might even be prudent to ask each patient Student Katie Nelson and her mentorif s/he is comfortable with your presence. In this brief interaction, you’ll learn how to interact with people who are in medical crisis and begin to test the waters of developing a compassionate patient-physician relationship.

Write It Down:  Your shadowing experience will be bursting with medical cases you have never seen and which you are likely to forget if you don’t record them.  It’s not likely that you will be able to take notes while immersed in your shadow experience.  Note-taking while a patient is talking and being examined is highly likely to make that person uncomfortable. However, at the end of the shadowing day, write down your thoughts and impressions about what you have witnessed. What intrigued you? What bothered you? What do you still have questions about? Consider this journaling a valuable tool in your career exploration.

It’s never too early to obtain a shadowing opportunity and start your journey towards the career of your dreams. Just be sure to be on your best behavior, sensitive to the needs of others, and open to understanding the world you’ll live in as a medical professional. — Post by Madelaine Kingsbury.