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Shadowing a doctor during COVID-19

August 21, 2020

You can watch the YouTube version of this blog here.

While the COVID-19 global pandemic continues, it is imperative that we educate the future generations of healthcare professionals.

Many students are asking the question: can I still get doctor shadowing experience during COVID-19? The answer is definitely yes, but there are important additional considerations.

We have looked into ways you can safely gain clinical experience to bolster you medical school applications and join healthcare workers in action sooner rather than later.

We’ll also tell you how we’ve made our own Global Pre-Meds doctor shadowing programs COVID-safe.

Virtual medical shadowing programs

Many medical shadowing programs have suspended all in-person opportunities. However, there are virtual learning opportunities for impending med students.

The Physician’s Assistant Education Association, for example, is helping students prepare for PA school applications by offering online shadowing sessions via Zoom.

This allows you to gain some understanding of working at a hospital without leaving your home, which means a smaller chance of infection and it’s more convenient to your schedule. It also gives the opportunity to have larger groups of students and doctors who can join in on these sessions, which exposes you to varied perspectives.

There are limitations to online shadowing programs. One of the greatest being the lack of face to face interaction with patients, as HIPAA has restrictions on engaging with patients through video chat for privacy reasons. In general, it’s simply harder to get a realistic feel for what it’s like working in a hospital when you’re observing from a screen.

Nevertheless, these online learning opportunities can provide you with some insight into hospital frontlines.

Approaching local hospitals

If you reach out to ask about clinical observation opportunities at your local hospital, be brief and respectful. Understand that many hospitals do not currently have energy to handle students.

Should you receive a positive response to your request, make sure that you are prepared and prompt each and every day. Respect the rules laid out by the institution or mentor and try to be as unobtrusive as possible. This means being observant and asking questions at the appropriate times.

Seeing the impact of the global pandemic on your own community can be a difficult and valuable learning opportunity. You can find like-minded students who may even be looking into similar career paths at the same schools.

If you are living with others during your local medical shadowing program, consider how you will mitigate any potential transmission. Healthcare professionals are already taking precautions to keep their families safe after providing COVID-19 care.

Some of those key behaviors include washing your hands when returning home, changing your clothes, and social distancing within your family. It’s also helpful to regularly sanitize all personal items that you may be using at work and at home.

This is another area in which you should look to your mentor and ask how they are keeping their families safe while working on the frontlines of COVID-19.

Doctor shadowing programs abroad

Another option for pre-health students looking for clinical experience is to gain a global health perspective by going abroad.

The impact of this virus on the world is unprecedented. For pre-med students, international hospital experience during this challenging time can give them a greater context for health care that they may not otherwise obtain.

At Global Pre-Meds, we offer a medical shadowing program that is safe and reliable. The program was created to keep our students protected on the hospital frontlines and now we have enhanced those measures to make our program COVID resilient.

Aside from the one of a kind experience of seeing how hospitals are functioning internationally, joining one of these abroad programs allows you to social distance away from your loved ones at home. Instead of interacting with family and friends after your hospital observation hours, you can remain in your bubble of doctors and other pre-med students for the duration of your program.

These pre-planned programs can be a safer option than shadowing at a local hospital on your own. Do your research into company policies and make sure you have good travel insurance.

A good company will plan your experience so there is little room for error or issues with health and safety. The mentors and staff should ensure that all your needs are taken care of.

In medical abroad programs like ours, you don’t have to sacrifice your safety for the full shadowing experience. We take care of transportation, food, and accommodation so that you can focus on getting the most out of this educational opportunity.

By following the most up to date health and safety measures, you can still get your clinical hours and a rare look at international healthcare during a global pandemic.

How to stay safe in the hospital

If you are able to shadow a doctor in the hospital, either locally or abroad, you may need to follow enhanced safety protocols to prevent transmission. Your mentoring doctor will inform you of all guidelines for your program and how you can best protect yourself.

Personal Protective Equipment is required for all healthcare professionals, which means you should be outfitted with PPE while you are also at the hospital. At Global Pre-Meds, we provide all professional PPE for the students and doctors to ensure the best possible protection. Make sure you ask your mentoring doctor if you have any questions regarding proper use and care.

Wash your hands. We all know this. If you’re working in the hospital, you will be washing them even more often. Observe your mentoring doctor to learn about sanitizing and disinfecting procedures.

Health care workers are on the frontlines of the coronavirus pandemic everyday. They are the ones to watch and learn from when it comes to keeping yourself safe from COVID-19.

Monitoring your own health

Regular temperature checks should become a part of your routine.

Our Global Pre-Meds programs, for example, will require you to check yourself every time you enter or leave the house. If you present with any signs or symptoms you can catch them early and seek testing and treatment.

The Center for Disease Control has a list of symptoms on their website, including a self-checker guide that helps you decide if you need to seek medical care.

Pay special attention to your own health while you are interacting with other patients and doctors in the hospital. It’s not only important for your own safety, but also for the safety of others.

What impact will your presence have?

Many pre-med students are concerned about having a negative impact on the hospital or doctors they will be shadowing.

One thing to remember is that if a hospital or doctor does not want students shadowing, they will say so. It is your job to accept that answer gracefully and find an alternative hospital or option.

If you do get the opportunity, either locally or abroad, make sure that your presence is not disruptive to doctors or patients. Be prepared and listen to instructions.

Additionally, if you can find programs that provide benefits to the doctor or hospital for the added work, you can do something positive for those healthcare providers.

We use a portion of our Global Pre-Meds program fees to pay the hospital and your mentoring doctor. This way there is an economic benefit to those partnerships, which also incentivizes them to provide a great experience for you and your peers.

Remember why you are here

Your goal during clinical shadowing opportunities is to gain an understanding of what it’s like to be a physician.

This is a rare and crucial moment in healthcare history. There’s a lot to learn and it’s important for medical students to continue doing so. However, we always want to ensure that we do no harm.

It is possible to shadow in hospitals during COVID-19, as long as you abide by health, safety, and ethical guidelines set by our healthcare professionals.

You can learn more about our Global Pre-Meds shadowing programs by visiting our homepage.