Observerships in the USA

As an International Medical Graduate (IMG), navigating the path to residency or fellowship in the USA or Canada can feel daunting. Observership programmes offer a valuable opportunity to gain valuable insights into the US healthcare system and strengthen your application.

What is an Observership?

IMGs specifically design an observership as an informal learning experience. Unlike clerkships for final-year medical students, there’s no hands-on clinical involvement. You’ll shadow physicians, observe patient interactions and participate in educational activities. Observerships typically last one to two weeks, though some programmes may offer longer durations.

Who Can Apply?

These programmes are open to a wide range of IMGs, including:

  • Medical Students
  • Residents
  • Fellows
  • Consultants

How to Apply?

Individual hospitals manage their observership programmes. Each programme’s website will detail the specific application requirements. Generally, you’ll need to submit:

  • Personal Statement:This one-page document should highlight your accomplishments and career goals, not just a copy of your CV.
  • Updated CV:Ensure it’s free of typos and grammatical errors.
  • Letters of Recommendation:Two to three are typically required.
  • Passport Copy
  • Medical Degree Diploma
  • Internship Certificate
  • Specialisation Certificate (if applicable)
  • Vaccination Documentation (including COVID Vaccine)

Some programmes allow you to specify your preferred speciality during the application process.

Benefits of Observerships for IMGs

Observerships offer a multitude of benefits for IMGs seeking residency or fellowship positions:

  • Enhanced CV: Participating in a reputable hospital’s observership programme strengthens your CV and demonstrates your commitment to the US healthcare system. (Note:Some hospitals may have limitations on how you can use this experience in your application.)
  • US Connections:Building relationships with US physicians can significantly improve your application’s competitiveness.
  • Stepping Stone: Observerships can serve as a stepping stone to clinical fellowships and potentially alternative pathways to primary certification.
  • Letters of Recommendation:You might even be fortunate enough to receive a valuable letter of recommendation from a physician you shadow.

Visa Requirements

The most common visa type for observerships is the B1/B2 visa, which allows temporary visits for business or pleasure. However, it’s crucial to consult with a professional immigration specialist for personalised guidance.

Observership vs. Clerkship

It’s important to understand the key differences between observerships and clerkships:

  • Observership:Passive observation of clinical work, no patient interaction.
  • Clerkship:Hands-on clinical experience for final-year medical students.

During an observership, you cannot:

  • Have physical contact with patients
  • Provide clinical care
  • Perform procedures
  • Place orders

However, you can:

  • Observe patient rounds and discussions
  • Attend departmental grand rounds
  • Participate in journal club discussions
  • Network with US physicians to gain insights into the US healthcare system

Observership Fees

Most elite programmes charge fees for observerships, which can include an application fee and/or a program fee. If financial limitations are a concern, especially for IMGs from low-income countries, inquire about fee waivers. Some programmes may waive fees based on a strong justification.

Are Exams Required?

No exams, like USMLE or MCCQE1, are mandatory for observerships. However, if you plan to settle in the US or Canada, you’ll eventually need to complete the necessary exams and licensing requirements.


Observerships in USA offer a unique opportunity for IMGs to gain valuable experience in the US healthcare system, network with US physicians and strengthen their residency or fellowship applications. By carefully researching programmes, preparing a strong application and understanding the visa requirements, you can leverage observerships to take a significant step forward in your medical career path in the USA or Canada.

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