HOOP Policy 125




Date Reviewed:
May 2008

Responsible Office:
Office of Academic and Research Affairs; Office of International Programs

Responsible Executive:
Executive Vice President for Academic and Research Affairs


Members of the faculty or administrators often have an interest in and a commitment to sharing their work with colleagues who desire to spend an extended amount of time on this campus observing the educational, research and service work that is done here. While The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (“university”) welcomes such individuals, the university also has an obligation to structure such associations so as to protect the interests of the university as well as those of the observer. Observerships are offered by the university according to this policy and not by individual employees. Failure to comply with this policy by employees may result in disciplinary action and/or personal liability.

The privileges of all observers at the university are at the pleasure of the university. The university may, at any time, and at its sole discretion, end an observer’s relationship with the university.

Observers are defined as individuals or groups of individuals who desire to establish an uncompensated association with the university for a period longer than one month and up to one calendar year. Typical examples of observers are health care professionals, researchers and administrators seeking to observe university academic or administrative operations. An observer differs from a volunteer in that an observer is engaged in unpaid activities of an educational or training nature that primarily benefit the observer. A volunteer donates time and talent to primarily benefit the university (see HOOP Policy 159 Volunteers). The obligations and status of observers differs from that of volunteers. Visitors come to the university for a short-term (less than 30 days) for a variety of purposes (see below).

University observers are not considered employees for any purpose. Observers are not covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act or Workers’ Compensation Insurance. The privileges extended to observers are without compensation or benefits. Observers are not authorized to have business cards or to be issued property such as pagers, cell phones and laptop computers or any other privileges normally associated with being an employee such as reimbursement for travel to attend conferences.

Individuals who have been dismissed previously for cause from employment at the university or who were not employed as the result of a background security check are not eligible to participate in university activities as observers. Non-United States citizens who are not eligible for employment in the United States, including those awaiting approval from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) authorities and/or the State Department, as well as those with expired visas, may not participate as observers unless specifically authorized by their visa.

Each school and administrative unit must appoint a coordinator (or coordinators) whose responsibility is to facilitate all observer programs. All observers must be processed through the coordinator(s); faculty and staff are not permitted to host observers on an ad hoc basis.

To maximize the benefit to all involved, observer programs must be managed to ensure employee time is used efficiently; observers receive appropriate educational experiences; the security of proprietary and patient information is maintained; and other areas of operation are not adversely affected by observer programs.

This policy does not apply to:

  • guests and visitors to the university who plan to be on campus for less than 30 non-recurring days (e.g., guest lecturers, seminar leaders, site visitors, etc.);
  • students from other institutions of higher education who are participating as part of an officially sanctioned educational agreement;
  • individuals who are enrolled as students in academic programs at the university;
  • individuals who are Visiting Fellows;
  • individuals who are applicants to one of the university academic or residency programs; or
  • individuals who seek unpaid (without salary) academic or research faculty appointments at the university (see HOOP Policy 189 Faculty and Administrative and Professional Appointment).

Observers must comply with the following obligations:

  • Observers must abide by all university policies that govern conduct and standards, safety requirements, financial responsibility and confidentiality. This includes but is not limited to required safety or other training.
  • Observers may not administer treatment or render services to patients (including a primary medical examination or history or physical).
  • Observers may not be involved in obtaining patient consent for any clinical or research procedures, participate in decisions concerning patient management, write orders or notes in patient charts, or give orders verbally or otherwise for tests or services.
  • Observers must respect the right of patients to request that they not be a part of their clinical care team.
  • Observers may not obligate the institution financially or suggest or imply that they are acting with the authority of the university.
  • Observers may not publish implying a formal affiliation with the university.

It is the responsibility of the respective host school or administrative unit to ensure these requirements are met and the observer receives appropriate orientation and training upon arrival.


Prior to the start of an observership, the school or administrative coordinator(s) must ensure the observer completes and submits the Observer Application Form and provides the required documentation. The coordinator is responsible for:

  • ensuring a security background check is obtained on the observer through Human Resources;
  • a health assessment is done if the observer will come into close contact with patients;
  • visa clearance is received from the Office of International Affairs;
  • a plan for the observership as indicated in the Observer Application Form is completed; and
  • all approvals as indicated on the Observer Application Form are obtained prior to the beginning of the observation period.

Upon approval by the appropriate parties, the dean or administrative head will prepare a letter to the observer with copies to those who signed off on the application along with the Office of International Programs and the Office of International Affairs for non-United States citizens. At this time, the dean or administrative head will also request acknowledgement from the observer that he/she will abide by the terms outlined in the letter. The letter must substantially follow the form attached as a link to this policy. A copy of the signed acknowledgement must be filed with the school/administrative unit coordinator’s office prior to initiation of the observership.

When the observer checks in with the school/administrative unit coordinator (and the Office of International Affairs, if appropriate), the coordinator is responsible for notifying the sponsor (and the Office of International Programs for international observers) of the observer’s arrival and for facilitating arrangements for appropriate university services (e.g., safety training, badges). No observer is allowed to engage in university activities associated with his/her observership until the check-in process is complete.

Upon completion of the observership, the university recommends that the observer and the employee sponsor complete an evaluation of the observership to assess how well the plan objectives were met and as a mechanism for improving subsequent programs. A copy of the evaluation should be kept with the observer’s file in the coordinator’s office.

Observers who wish to continue their observership beyond the initial length of observership defined on the initial application must reapply for an extension of their observership and obtain appropriate Office of International Affairs (if applicable) clearance to continue appointment. Any evaluation of the initial observership should be included with the application.


Contact Telephone Email/Web Address
Office of Academic and Research Affairs 713-500-3062 https://www.uth.edu/evpara/  http://www.uth.edu/academics/
Office of International Programs 713-500-3559 InternationalPrograms@uth.tmc.edu  http://www.uth.edu/global-health/
Office of International Affairs (questions related to immigration policies and appropriate clearance for observers) 713-500-3176 utoiahouston@uth.tmc.edu  https://inside.uth.edu/international-affairs/