Types of observerships

Types of Clinical Observership and Finding Faculty Sponsor

Types of Clinical observership are as follows:

Official Clinical Observership Program (OCOP)

Some institutes have official programs facilitating the application and on-boarding of observers. Prospective observers have to apply to these programs after reviewing the eligibility criteria and application requirements. We will discuss the common eligibility and application requirements in a separate section.

Application Process

  • A program or department coordinator usually facilitates the process and after an internal review, the applicant is informed of the final decision. There are various factors that influence the final decision including the credentials, board scores, completeness of application material, month and total duration of requested observership, total slots offered, vacant slots in the selected department, and the total burden of applicants.
  • Some programs may also request a non-refundable application fee to review the application. Application may still be denied after the review process and if accepted, observer may have to pay an additional observership fee. This drives the total cost of observership up so don’t forget to examine the application fee and carefully prepare the material.

Time required

  • It is recommended to start the application in advance and some programs even require applications up-to six months in advance. A faculty sponsor is usually not required in OCOP but in some rare cases, the programs require an official sponsor. Please read the section on how to find a program sponsor below.

Non-official Clinical Observership Program (NCOP)

Most of the hospitals and institutes do not have a formal application process in place for the observerships. These are referred to as non-official observership programs (NCOP). The very first step to acquire the observership in such programs is to find a faculty mentor.

Faculty sponsorship and on-boarding

  • After an observer obtains faculty/staff sponsorship, the hospital or institute may request additional information and initiate on-boarding.  The process of NCOP is more time consuming as compared to OCOP, but this has its own advantages such as low fee and a personalized letter of recommendation (LOR).

Third party Clinical Observership Program (TCOP)

There are several agencies and mediator firms which assist in getting an observership at some cost. This cost is usually on the higher end as they do all the required work to find an appropriate observership and sponsorship. Mostly, the applicant will not have the control over the place of observership and mentor as they randomly assign the observership rotation based on the availability and CV of the applicant.

Application process and the caveat of TCOP

  • The wait time in TCOPs is less and an observership is almost guaranteed after all the requirements are met. The caveat with this approach is that an observer may find himself/herself in a program which is unheard of and the overall experience may not be as good as OCOPs or NCOPs. However, this is not always the case as there are some very good TCOPs with excellent reviews.

Table: Comparison of the various types of clinical observership

Official Clinical Observership Program (OCOP)Non-official Clinical Observership Program (NCOP)Third party Clinical Observership Program (TCOP)
Institute Academic HospitalsAcademic Hospitals, Non-Academic Hospitals, Community Health Centers, Outreach ClinicsNon-Academic Hospitals, Community Health Centers, Outreach ClinicsRarely Academic Hospitals
ApplicationFormal application processUsually no formal applicationThird party application process
Advance planning2-6 monthsVariable, usually 2-4 months1-3 months
Faculty sponsorRarely requiredRequiredThird party controlled process (Observer pays fee)
ExperienceChance to rotate with teams on floors and clinics, access to morning/noon conferences, and other educational resourcesUsually an observer rotate with teams or a physician mentor, may or may not organize conferences, and provide additional resourcesUsually an observer rotate with a physician mentor, usually there are no conferences arranged, and lacks additional resources
Letter of recommendation (LOR)Usually generic unless observer performed exceptionally wellUsually personalizedUsually personalized
ValueHighHigh to MediumMedium to Low
Effort required to searchMediumHighLow
Fee Range (per 4 weeks)200-2000 USD0-500 USD1000-3000 USD

How to find a faculty sponsor?

  • Emails:
    • The most common method to obtain a faculty sponsorship is directly emailing the faculty or staff physicians whom you are interested to shadow. Keep your email brief and include reasons for your request and anticipated benefit to the career.
    • Try emailing maximum people as you might not get a response from many. Staff members receive hundreds of emails with such requests and might just not be interested in allowing you to shadow them which is totally fine. You can send one followup email but don’t send multiple emails. Even if they agree to sponsor after multiple requests, you might not be able to get a strong LOR.
  • Alumni or personal contacts:
    • Another route to secure a sponsor is to contact your medical school alumni. They might be willing to help or redirect you to staff physicians who can serve as sponsors. You can also reach out to your friends in residency or fellowship training programs who might have the required information that can assist your search.
  • Medical Associations:
    • You may also want to join the medical associations and regional groups of physicians in your desired field. Some associations have mentorship programs to guide young professionals which can be helpful. In addition, you also get a chance to network and build professional contacts that can come handy in finding you an appropriate sponsorship for a clinical rotation.
  • Social Networks:
    • Social networking sites are yet another option to build connections. Build your personal profile and post your interests regularly. Interact with the related post, avoid posting political content, and stay professional. This will increase the acceptance rate of your requests. The best platforms to foster professional contacts are linkedin and twitter. 
    • Please do not cold-connect with peers and prospective professional contact on personal networks or chat apps such as facebook or whatsapp and never use these or related apps to initiate a professional link. However, you can connect if you had already made a request during your rotation or in-person and your contact agreed. Another exception is to join support groups or dedicated mentorship groups aimed to help young physicians connect with experienced staff members. 

Please cite the article as:

Types of Observership Programs and Finding a Faculty Sponsor for Observership. Furqan, M.M


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