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nebule's avatar

Is there any way that I would be able to shadow a surgeon?

Asked by nebule (16379 points ) January 16th, 2010

I’m not really sure what I want to do with my life career wise. I am currently studying Philosophy looking to complete a Philosophy and Psychological Studies Degree in 2012. During my studies I have become increasingly fascinated with the human brain and body in general, specifically thought the brain and heart.

I wanted to know if (in the UK) there was any way that a surgeon would let me shadow them for a week and watch their surgeries even having no medical training or background…would there be any way that you could shadow them and just watch their moves for a week?

My motive for wanting to do this would be two fold…
1) I’d really like to see what a neurosurgeon and cardiologist do in terms of actually watching their work for career purposes

but really more than anything
2) I’m truly fascinated by the human body and would love to just be able to see an open heart surgery.. to see a real heart and to see a real brain… even if I don’t eventually choose this path, I think actually seeing something like that could be really transformative…

I would imagine that people just don’t do these sorts of things unless you are a medical student, dedicated to learning the profession… but I’m just wondering whether it’s worth some well thought out letters of begging sent to a great number of surgeons…(maybe I’ll get lucky?) to enable my dream to come true…So if anyone knows anything about this specifically relevant to the UK I’d be very grateful… Thanks

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17 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

I can only tell you this. in my occupation, we sometimes have “ride alongs” in the police cars. a waiver must be signed releasing the government and the officer from any liability. i realize the police are not surgeons, but the same seneraio may apply. my suggestions is to call your local hospital business office and ask your question. since you are a student, this may be in your favor. be sure to tell them this. john

BhacSsylan's avatar

It depends on the surgeon. I had a neurosurgeon friend who offered to let me shadow just because I was thinking of becoming Pre-med, I was in no way ‘dedicated’ to the profession yet. So I’d say try and ask around, you may find someone who’s amenable to the idea, though you may have to ask for a decent while depending on how nice the surgeons in your area are.

Ron_C's avatar

I’m glad you cleared the question up in your comments. I thought you wanted to “stalk” a surgeon. The only people that I know, in the U.S. that are allowed in the operating room with the surgeon are medical and nursing students. There are some teaching hospitals with observation rooms but they are usually limited to qualified personnel.

I would say becoming a surgeon is something you decide after completing medical. First of all it is a requirement, second you can make a much better decision about what branch of medicine you want and if you can qualify.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

As long as local laws, and hospital policies do not prohibit it, you may be able to obtain the cooperation of such medical specialists if you approach them appropriately and explain your reasons to their satisfaction.

Patient consent may also be required due to privacy issues.

Ron_C's avatar

Really @Dr_Lawrence I thought they were trying to reduce clutter in the surgery suites. I signed permission for medical students but not for observers. I would object to that.

lilikoi's avatar

I am in the U.S. I took a graduate level course relating to physical therapy and one of my classmates said she got to sit in on a knee reconstruction surgery. I don’t think she was in med school at the time but I’m not sure. I’m guessing if you have the right connections you could probably find a way in. Even if you can’t, I would definitely want to talk to many surgeons about the field and what they like/dislike about the work. Brainstorm all the questions you have about this career then pick the ones you want answered and use those to craft an interview.

If I were thinking about being a surgeon, I’d ask myself this: Do I like working with my hands and do I have good manual dexterity? Am I good at making quick decisions based on limited information or am I the kind of person that wants all the info before deciding? Do I like studying the natural sciences (biology, chemistry,...) and am I good at committing large quantities of facts to memory? Am I willing to commit to several (something like 7 in the U.S.) years of additional schooling and training (and associated debt) for a career? How do I deal with competitiveness?

nebule's avatar

thanks guys…. great answers and ideas… I don’t think I would end up being a surgeon, based upon the answers to the questions that @lilikoi just asked me to ask myself, which I have indeed questioned myself about before. But that doesn’t necessarily rule out all other kinds of medical career….

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

@Ron_C I do not disagree. I was not advocating for such a request, I merely proposed how the OP might get an answer.

babaji's avatar

Check this out
http://www.fotosearch.com/video-footage/surgery.html
there is one on open heart surgery as well
you might search “surgery videos” on google, there are a lot.

Leo's avatar

I don’t know about the UK but here in California you can observe if the Surgeon says ok and the Patient also says ok. They only let observers in after the patient has been preped and draped and is fully covered. There is no way to see the face or any part of the body except the small part that is being opened and usually that is also covered by plastic which they cut through. No bodies on parade. It’s very professional.
I also like babaji’s answer. There must be many surgeries on line you can watch. It might, in the long run be easier.

Saschin's avatar

Point a flashlight at a surgeon. The shadow will appear on the ground. Congratulations, you are now shadowing a surgeon.

Darwin's avatar

If you cannot find a surgeon who will allow you to shadow them, I have found that veterinary surgeons are often willing to allow students to shadow them. That would give you a taste of surgery, enough to let you know if you want to pursue surgery on humans. My son was allowed to watch surgical procedures at our vet’s office one summer. He came out of it certain he did not want to be a doctor of any sort (which doesn’t surprise me).

Rarebear's avatar

Find a surgeon and talk to them and tell them of your interest. Tell them you’re considering it as a career path. You’ll probably need to go to the hospital and sign up as a volunteer, and sign a HIPAA (confidentiality) agreement. Then, assuming the surgeon agrees to let you shadow, you’ll probably need to get formal written permission from the surgeon, the charge nurse in the operating room, the anesthesiologist, and the patient. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to do it.

The veterinary route is probably easier. Even easier would be to talk to a local pathologist or medical examiner and ask to go into an autopsy.

Hope that helps.

mcercusmetic's avatar

Don’t take this the wrong way, but how do you know you’re so interested in surgery? I’m a junior in college, and I have no idea what exactly each field of medicine entails, and I am not the least concerned – since I know that these bridges/decisions will be crossed when it’s time to do clinical rotations in 3rd and 4th year of medical school.

I know you’re enthusiastic about the career and all, but you’re a sophomore in high school, and right now, you’re already doing what you should be doing – learning how the hospital environment in the ER functions, and researching your career of interest. If I were you, I would hone my basic science skills right now (physics, chemisty, biology) – as they will surely help you in college and in 1st and 2nd year of medical school.

Sure, it might be ‘cool’ to shadow a surgeon in the OR, but having this ‘clinical’ advantage won’t really affect your career progress in anyway – so there’s no need to feel at a loss if you’re not able to find a surgeon to shadow. [link removed by Fluther via internal edit]

nebule's avatar

um…I am not a sophomore in high school or doing any of that stuff

zzc's avatar

I’m in the U.S., so not familiar with how it would be in the U.K. Does your college or university, have any medical programs? If so, or even go to one that does, talk to the heads of the programs about your interest. In the U.S., even some high schools, offer programs where students can observe, and get insight into medical careers. Such programs are set up and run to eliminate the disruption to the OR. If your interest is more a “fascination”, I, and I think a lot of other medical people, would refer you to the many sources, i.e. T.V. Internet etc. for wonderful programs showing, explaining surgeries and the human body. If you actually were serious about the field, (but you, yourself, said you may not choose that path), I would encourage you to think of another specialty than brain or heart surgery. Neurosurgeons and cardiologists are . . .how to say, in my experience as a nurse, can tend to be uhm, personalities that, you may find another specialty more open to the idea. Please bear in mind, surgeries are not something to be watched, like a sporting event. It is not a simple thing you are asking. You are asking to be allowed behind the scenes, in an environment of professionals, highly trained to assure the privacy, safety and success of a surgery. You are an unknown, a complication with unknown potential. There are students in surgeries, or fathers in the delivery room, who get sick, or faint and fall, possibly hurting themselves, possibly contaminating or upsetting the the set up for the surgery, taking time and attention away from the patient. To ask to do so on your own. . .who is going to be responsible for you if that happened? The focus needs to be on the patient, not an onlooker. There are legalities for the hospital and surgeon. It’s not a simple thing, at all, that you are fantasizing. . .it’s not like watching a medical T.V. show being filmed. ITS FOR REAL. Ask yourself, do you have the aptitude in the sciences needed? The intelligence and endurance for becoming a surgeon, not to mention the finances, and the record to compete to even be accepted into a medical school? It’s for these reasons, and more, that what you’re asking for, is not a common experience. If you were in a program set up for it, there would be people with you to answer questions and talk about the experience. The people doing the work, do not have time to do that. Even orientations for new employees and very fast and intense, time is a precious commodity. Confidentiality is another huge issue. Many, many people are fascinated with medicine and the human body. . . making the advertisers for medical T.V. shows very happy . I’m sorry, if I’ve sounded harsh. It was not my intent. I meant to be realistic with you. I’ve been involved with surgeries, as an RN, for 33 yrs, the last 24, in a university setting. Good luck, it’s difficult to find, and follow your passion.

nebule's avatar

@zzc Thank you…I don’t find your comments harsh at all, I thoroughly respect what you have said and appreciate that surgery is very serious and all sorts of factors have to be considered as you have cited above. Thank you for your input. Since posting this question I have decided not to go into this area due to the intense and immense amount of training I would have to do, which is simply not feasible for a single mother…well not me anyway. I simply can’t afford all the time away from my son to go through the necessary training. I am however continuing my studies in Philopsophy and psychology to get a degree and hopefully do a post-graduate conversion course which will enable me to get accredited with the British Psychologist’s Society. This in turn will enable me to go into possible forensic psychology or neuro-psychology. Thanks again for your advice x

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