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Survey of Osteopathic Medical Students Regarding Physician Shadowing Experiences Before and During Medical School Training


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Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment

J Med Educ Curric Dev. 2019 May 30;6:2382120519852046.


Erik Langenau, Sarah B Frank, Sarah J Calardo, Michael B Roberts


Introduction: Shadowing a physician is an observational experience which includes a student observing a licensed healthcare provider caring for patients. Shadowing is commonly done by students before and during medical school, but little is known about the nature or extent of these extra-curricular observational experiences.

Objective: We hypothesized that shadowing experiences were common yet variable. We investigated the prevalence, nature, and perceived value of medical student experiences with shadowing physicians (both before and during medical school).

Methods: This survey-based study was non-experimental with a cross-sectional convenience sample of osteopathic medical students about their shadowing experiences before and during medical school. The survey was sent to all matriculated osteopathic medical students (OMS1-4) for the 2017 to 2018 academic year from two medical schools: Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) (1084 total students) and PCOM-Georgia (554 total students). The final survey instrument included three sections: demographics (6 questions), pre-medical shadowing experiences (21 questions), and medical student shadowing experiences (24 questions).

Results: Respondents (357) identified themselves as OMS1 (96), OMS2 (89), OMS3 (73), OMS4 (95) and other (2, OMS5) with enrollment at PCOM-Philadelphia (242) and PCOM-Georgia (115). Among survey respondents, 339 (95.5%) reported shadowing a physician as a pre-medical student, and 110 (30.8%) reported shadowing (outside of their required clinical rotations) a physician during medical school. Requirements to participate were inconsistent; fewer than 50% of shadowing experiences required Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) training, proof of vaccination, or purified protein derivative (PPD) documentation. In addition to observation, pre-medical and medical students, respectively, participated in history taking (44 [13%], 47 [42.7%]), physical examinations (45 [13.3%], 44 [40%]) and procedures (13, [3.8%], 20 [18.2%]) during their shadowing experiences. Motivations to participate in shadowing varied between pre-medical and medical student experiences, but both groups mentioned their desire to learn more about a particular discipline, obtain letters of recommendation, and gain patient care experience. Students recommended both pre-medical (273 [80.5%]) and medical school (93 [84.5%]) shadowing to future students.

Conclusion: Shadowing remains a common and important tool for students to learn about patient care, medicine and careers. The nature of each shadowing experience and participation requirements are quite variable. Measures to ensure patient safety, confidentiality, liability and supervision are inconsistently applied. Promoting guidelines, as well as codes of conduct, for shadowing could serve as a helpful resource for students, academic advisors and supervising clinicians.

Publication Date: 

2019 May



Langenau, E., Frank, BS., Calardo, JS., Roberts, BM. (2019) 'Survey of Osteopathic Medical Students Regarding Physician Shadowing Experiences Before and During Medical School Training', J Med Educ Curric Dev. 2019 May 30;6:2382120519852046.

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