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Patient Shadowing: A Useful Research Method, Teaching Tool, and Approach to Student Professional Development for Premedical Undergraduates

Wilson, Jason W. MD, MA; Baer, Roberta D. PhD; Villalona, Seiichi MA

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002882
Innovation Reports

Problem Questions have been raised about whether undergraduate institutions are effectively preparing premedical students in the sociobehavioral and cognitive reasoning content found on the revised Medical College Admission Test, providing opportunities to understand and apply these sociobehavioral and cognitive reasoning concepts in real-world scenarios, and offering career exploration opportunities.

Approach The Research in Physician–Patient Interactions course is a 15-week course designed for premedical students and taught through the collaboration of an emergency medicine physician and an applied medical anthropologist. As of January 2016, the course is offered each spring at the University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida. The course provides opportunities for patient and physician shadowing within the anthropological methodological framework of participant observation. Other qualitative research methods are also taught, and students complete a group patient experience quality improvement project.

Outcomes Thematic analysis of students’ field notes and reflection essays and follow-up communications with course alumni revealed 3 salient themes regarding the utility of patient shadowing as a research method that provides unique types of qualitative data, as a teaching tool for premedical students to understand the perspectives of patients, and as an approach to developing the professional skills necessary in health care, such as effective communication styles, establishment of rapport, and empathy.

Next Steps Similar courses should be offered at other universities to premedical students. While it appears that patient shadowing experiences have a great impact during premedical education, there may also be value in integrating a similar experience into medical school and residency training.

J.W. Wilson is associate professor, Division of Internal Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa General Hospital, Tampa, Florida; ORCID:

R.D. Baer is professor, Department of Anthropology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida.

S. Villalona is a first-year medical student, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Piscataway, New Jersey.

Funding/Support: Funding for this course was provided by the USF Honors College.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: The USF institutional review board reviewed this study and determined that it is not human subjects research and so is exempt.

Previous presentations: Data from this manuscript were presented at the Association of American Medical Colleges Western Group on Educational Affairs (WGEA) Regional Meeting in Denver, Colorado, March 24–27, 2018.

Correspondence should be addressed to Jason W. Wilson, 1 Tampa General Cir., Tampa, FL 33606; telephone: (813) 843-2110; email:

Copyright © 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges