How to shadow a surgeon

December 29, 2020

Shadowing a surgeon is an exciting educational experience that many students who are interested in medicine want to do before entering medical school.

If you are a high school, college, or premed student who is interested in a career in medicine or wants to become a surgeon, you will want to observe surgical procedures to build your medical knowledge and become a more competitive applicant. Job shadowing at a hospital is an excellent way to understand what a doctor, nurse, physician assistant, or midwife is responsible for, and whether or not that career is right for you. 

We help premed and prehealth students get doctor shadowing experience at international hospitals and clinics because we understand how important an effective shadowing experience is for your career.

Our programs are unique because we curate the entire experience, selecting the best hospitals and doctors to serve as your mentors, and taking care of all of your needs for the duration of the program. You shadow physicians who answer all your questions as you observe a range of medical cases and surgeries

We have explored everything you need to know about how to shadow a surgeon so that you can get the experience you need. 

Find a surgeon to shadow

Finding a surgeon to shadow in an operating room can take some time. Start with anyone you know who is in the medical field. Ask friends, family or even your personal doctor if they know a surgeon who may allow you to observe. 

If you don’t have any connections to the healthcare field, that’s when you start to cold call and email. Do some research to find names of surgeons you want to shadow, particularly if there’s a specialty you’re interested in. You’ll want to send your resume, as well as why you are interested in shadowing that particular surgeon. Include your availability, and be prepared to be flexible, depending on the physician’s schedule. 

You should also consider one of our programs because all you have to do is apply. We currently offer experiences in two countries – Tanzania and the Dominican Republic – which give you the chance to gain a global health perspective as you observe medical cases that are unique to the country.

Our Dominican Republic doctor shadowing program will offer you the maximum amount of time possible on the frontlines of the hospital, including surgeries and general medicine.  

Our Tanzania program will allow you to explore all levels of healthcare, including traditional healers, clinics, and general hospitals. You will also talk to a surgeon about how to treat large animal traumas, which are common in this part of Africa. 

Each of our programs has been designed to fit your needs. For a one time program fee you know that everything will be taken care of as you embark on a highly educational and unique journey. 

Can I shadow a surgeon in high school?

When it comes to shadowing a surgeon, most hospitals do not allow students under 16 years of age to observe in the operating room or the emergency room. Generally speaking, you can shadow a doctor if you are at least 14 years of age, but are limited in the experience. 

Each hospital or doctor shadowing program is unique so you will want to check with their requirements specifically. You may have to fill out an application or other forms before you are able to shadow, especially if you are a minor.

The most significant barrier to shadowing for any premed or prehealth student to getting shadowing experience is that there are strict confidentiality laws. HIPAA laws restrict access to patients’ healthcare information, which means any students who want to shadow have to understand HIPAA laws and make sure they keep patient confidentiality. 

If you want to shadow a doctor in high school, you should be prepared to spend some time looking for the right opportunity. If you are planning on shadowing a doctor on your school break you should make sure that you start looking for a surgeon to shadow well before you plan to start. 

You can also ask your high school advisors or HOSA chapter if they have any connections to surgeons that will allow you to shadow on their service.

The easiest option would be to apply to our dedicated high school program. We have a separate session for 16-18 year olds, which puts you right on the frontlines of the hospital, but also provides age appropriate supervision in your free time. 

Prepare to observe a surgery

If you are shadowing a surgeon you should be prepared to treat the opportunity like a professional job. This means the correct attire, timeliness, and a positive and respectful attitude. 

Surgeries can last a long time. You’ll want to get a good night’s sleep, eat a proper breakfast, and hydrate to make sure you’re in top shape for observation.

You should always arrive early to the hospital. Surgeries involve a lot of preparation and need to start on time. You may be observing from a gallery, or if you’re going to be observing in close proximity then you will need to scrub in. 

Make sure you ask the surgeon you are shadowing if you have any questions when it comes to attire or any other preparation you will need. Bring a notebook to write down any notes or questions that you will want to ask. If you can’t ask them in the moment, you’ll be able to remember them when you have the opportunity later on. 

If you know what procedure you will be observing, it could be good to do some research beforehand. You’ll know what to expect and be able to ask well-informed questions of your physician. You may even impress them with your knowledge. 

If you attend one of our programs, we will provide you with American standard PPE and you will have 24/7 support so if any questions arise, we can help. As soon as you begin your application process our Global Pre-Meds staff will be there to assist you. Check out our program dates here