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Have you ever heard of OR etiquette? It was my first time in the operating room and I knew there were rules to abide by but I didn’t understand how I should prepare.
Although the surgeon I was scheduled to shadow told me what time to arrive and where to go, I hesitated to ask other questions.
What should I wear or bring? I shadowed a neurosurgeon for a few months and learned the ropes (at least as an observer).
Now, I’m going to give you tips on how to effectively shadow a surgeon in the operating room.
How to Shadow a Surgeon
Research surgical procedures
Before you shadow a surgeon, research the most common surgical procedures of the specialty you’ll observe.
This will help you prepare for what you’ll see and help you ask more knowledgeable questions.
Common procedures in neurosurgery are craniotomy, spinal fusion, and laminectomy. A couple of days before I shadowed, I watched surgical videos on YT and did a review of basic brain anatomy.
If you want to go above and beyond, glance over any journal articles the physician has published.
Eat a healthy breakfast in the morning and make sure there’s enough time for you to digest before entering the operating room.
If you feel woozy at any time during the surgery, sit down.
Many surgeries can be long and usually start at 7 AM! So, I highly recommended you eat and hydrate beforehand.
Pro tip: empty your bladder and bowels before you leave the house and at the hospital if time permits.
You can bring a water bottle if you’d like but you can only leave it in the locker or break room. It cannot come into the operating room with you!
Wear professional attire
Wear professional attire to the hospital, even if you plan to be in surgery. You cannot go wrong with dressing professionally. Wear closed-toed shoes (sneakers for the OR).
If you wear dress shoes, bring a pair of sneakers with you, however, the less you bring the better.
PS- Jeans aren’t considered professional so don’t wear them.
Ask the physician or a nurse where you can get a pair of surgical scrubs.
Pro tip: Wear a bouffant cap at all times in the hallway and have your surgical mask on prior to entering the operating room.
Bring pen and paper
Bring a pen and pocket-sized notebook to write down procedure names, diseases, and any information you want to look up later on.
Jot down any questions you have to ask at a better time.
I highly recommend you journal your shadowing experiences. That way, you’ll remember them better when it comes time to apply to medical school.
Be punctual every day!
Calculate the time it will take to get to the hospital (with traffic), park, find where you’re going (I always get lost in hospitals), and get changed!
If the surgeon tells you the surgery is starting at 7 AM, be inside the OR no later than 6:45 AM.
Don’t bring a huge purse or bag with you, only bring what you need.
You can leave your belongings in the locker room but probably won’t be able to lock them up.
Asking questions shows the physician you’re interested and engaged.
Show your passion but remember to ask questions at the appropriate time.
If you’re unsure if it’s a good time or not, inquire if you may ask a question.
If they’re in the middle of surgery or speaking with another member of the medical team, it’s probably not the best time. Write down your question and ask later.
- How to Shadow a Doctor and Get Shadowing Experience: Free Email Template
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The Do’s and Dont’s of the OR
Hair, make-up, jewelry & nails
It’s totally okay to wear make-up! I suggest nothing more than a tinted moisturizer, under-eye concealer, brow pencil, and mascara (although not necessary).
Keep in mind that most face make-up will likely rub off on your surgical mask.
Small minimal stud earrings/ dainty necklaces are acceptable, and natural nail polish is fine if you aren’t scrubbing in.
However, if you are scrubbing in, painted nails, chipped nail polish, and acrylics/tips are unacceptable.
This can harbor bacteria and put the patient at risk for infection. Most student observers don’t scrub in.
As for hair, you want it to be free of strong-smelling products and pulled back to fit in the bouffant cap!
Bring an extra hair tie in case it breaks.
Introduce yourself to everyone
Introduce yourself to the physician, physician assistant, nurse practitioner, nurses, anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetist, scrub tech, and anyone else in the O.R.
Professionalism is vital in this high-intensity and high-energy field.
Keep in mind that your role is to observe the surgeon and patient-physician interactions solely, so be inconspicuous and out of the way.
Respect the patient’s right to privacy and confidentiality.
Do not discuss the patient’s case, name, gender, etc. outside of the operating room or to anyone who is not directly involved in the case.
You’ll have to sign a HIPAA, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, form to protect patient’s health information and medical records before shadowing any physician.
You need to be extremely present and observant when you shadow a surgeon in the operating room.
You’ll most likely be in the back of the operating room and out of the way.
Keep your hands and arms crossed and above your waist.
This will prevent you from accidentally touching anything that could be sterile. Be conscious of every step you take!
Don’t break the sterile field
DO NOT BREAK THE STERILE FIELD!
The sterile field is indicated by anything on or covered by a blue sheeting.
No touching, rubbing up against or bumping into anything. Don’t even get too close to “the blue” or the surgical tech will yell at you haha.
Be honest if you break the sterile field. The procedure will be stopped and sterilized again. If you want to be invited back to shadow, don’t break the sterile field!
Pro tip: if you’re still unsure as to what is sterile and not sterile, assume everything is sterile until you get a good idea of what is and isn’t. Better yet, just don’t touch anything!
Thank the physician and staff
When the surgery is finished, thank everyone in the OR and the physician for having you.
Before you leave, ask the physician any questions you have and when you can shadow again.
Shadow a surgeon (or any physician) for a minimum of 3+ months to build a relationship and increase your chances of getting a recommendation letter.
Pro tip: Make an excel sheet or google doc to track your shadowing hours and keep a journal of your reflections on what you see each day.
Doing this may help you recall experiences more easily when you’re ready to write your personal statement and apply it to medical school.
Need help drafting up an email to send to physicians? I got you!
Fill out the form below and I’ll send you the exact template I used that granted me the opportunity to shadow in neurosurgery!