What to Know About Physician Shadowing Etiquette

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OPM 206: What to Know About Physician Shadowing Etiquette

Session 206

Is there such a thing as etiquette when shadowing doctors? What can you expect to do and what, if anything, should you avoid?

Your questions answered here are taken directly from the Nontrad Premed Forum. 

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

[00:45] OldPreMeds Question of the Week:

“Hi, all! I’m pretty new to the premed game, as I’ve recently decided to jump in and follow the path to medicine wholeheartedly. 

I just landed a shadowing gig with an orthopedic surgeon (so exciting to me!!!), and I could use some pointers on shadowing etiquette because I’ve never shadowed before. I’ve been called “home trained” and complimented on my manners before, but I just don’t want to go in blind. 

What are the do’s? What are the don’ts (aside from obvious things)? What do I wear? Should I buy a lab coat? If I like it, how do I go about asking for more shadowing opportunities, etc? Any input would be much appreciated!”

[01:55] Shadowing Etiquette

'The only etiquette is what that specific physician expects of you.'Click To Tweet

The general rule of thumb is don’t speak unless spoken to. Stand. Be silent. Don’t get in the way. Don’t touch anything. Just watch.

Every physician is going to be a little bit different with how they want you to interact with them, their staff, or the patients. But assume that you should do nothing until the physician said something.

[02:27] When to Ask and What to Ask

Go into your shadowing day and ask those questions right away. When can you ask them a question if a question comes up? Or is it okay if you ask questions in between patients? Is it okay if you introduce yourself to the patients or will they do that for you?

'Ask those types of questions if you have time before the day gets started so you know the ground rules.'Click To Tweet

[03:00] Shadowing Orthopedic Surgeons

Shadowing orthopedic surgeons is a bit different depending on where you are. If you’re in an operating room, ask questions. You will be typically managed by the scrub nurse wh’s directing everything. 

'The ultimate goal for being in the operating room is do not touch anything.'Click To Tweet

When in the operating room, stand back. Keep your arms crossed. And just be on the side watching. A lot of times, the physician will let you stand up on a stool and they’ll let you scrub in. Again, don’t touch anything. Just follow directions.

If you think you’ve broken stero technique, please don’t be afraid to speak up. Tell them that you may have done something you shouldn’t have done and ask if you can rewash your hands. Do whatever you need to do to fix your mistake.

[04:05] What to Wear: Do’s and Don’ts

You don’t need to buy a lab coat. Anything you’re going to need especially in an operating setting will be provided by the hospital, or the clinic, or the orthopedic surgeon. They have scrubs there for you so this shouldn’t be a problem.

If it’s in a clinic setting, dress in a business casual attire. For men, wear khakis and a button-down and a tie. For women, wear some sort of dress, skirt, or pants and a nice blouse. 

No flip-flops, no shorts. Men must be clean-shaven. It’s fine if you have a beard too.

[05:15] Setting Expectations

Shadowing experiences are going to be different for students. Again, this depends on the physician and the practice. It depends on their comfort with you.

'Set up expectations on how many times you're going to shadow and how often you're going to shadow.'Click To Tweet

Set those expectations up when you first set up these shadowing experiences. If there’s no time, you can send an email or make a phone call to ask if you can come back once a month to shadow. 

This depends on where you are. A lot of hospital systems have limits on how many times a specific student can shadow. And every physician is going to be different. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. 


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