Shadowing protocol you should be aware of

December 11, 2014

Students learning from their mentor in the obstetrics department If you’ve managed to get the opportunity to shadow a physician in a hospital or a private clinic, congratulations! You are one of the lucky few so consider it a privilege.

For several reasons, not many hospitals are favourable to the idea of letting pre-med students spend a few days or a week following their medical staff around on the hospital premises. One of the main reasons for this reluctance is the many legal repercussions that could potentially ensue should anything go wrong. Other reasons include patient privacy and possible inconvenience for the hospital staff.

To make the most of your shadowing experience and also to make sure you do not inconvenience the hospital or the medical staff who you will be shadowing, there are certain established guidelines you should be aware of.

Use these points as a checklist before you start on your shadowing experience:

  • Arrive at the hospital or clinic with sufficient time to spare so you can orient yourself with the facilities and observe how everything works. Don’t ever keep the physician waiting. Not even for a few minutes. No excuse is good enough if you are late. As a medical professional, patients’ lives depend on you and a few minutes can make the difference between life and death. Unpunctuality is unforgivable and will start you off on the wrong foot.
  • Dress professionally but comfortably. Most importantly, wear comfortable footwear. You are likely to be on your feet all day. 
  • Understand the limits of your role as an observer. You will not be doing yourself any favours and will definitely not impress anyone by giving suggestions on possible diagnoses, offering to administer medications, engaging with patients and other tasks usually reserved for qualified medical professionals.
  • Treat all staff and patients with dignity and respect, irrespective of your personal opinions regarding race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, nationality or age. The single important trait of good medical practitioners is their ability to rise above persona prejudices and treat all patients with dignity and respect.
  • Maintain the strictest privacy and confidentiality regarding patient information.
  • Patients have a right to refuse to have med students present. Respect that and don’t harbour any grudges. It’s nothing personal. Some people are just uncomfortable in hospitals and prefer not to be the focus of attention.
  • Always act with utmost integrity, regardless of the potential consequences. Be honest and forthright with physician supervisors, peers, patients and staff.
  • This may be a good time to network with other professionals but definitely do not accept patients’ invitations to connect on any social platforms. Draw a distinct professional line between patients and you. 
  • Behave in a courteous, appropriate, professional manner at all times.
  • If you happen to be ill, it is best to stay away from the hospital. Coming in to contact with patients while you are ill puts them at higher risk. Make sure you notify the physician supervisor as soon as you have made the decision.

Most important of all, learn and absorb as much as you can from the professionals around you. Observe. Make notes. Ask questions. This is your opportunity to explore whether you are cut out for a career in medicine so make the most of it.