After spending two years in the classroom, third-year medical students begin their clinical rotations, where they finally get to immerse themselves in patient care, learn more about different specialties and put their book smarts to good use. But this transition can be a stressful time. Students are anxious to make a good impression, do a good job and become a helpful member of a team.
Below is my advice for succeeding in clinical rotations. I drew on my own experiences as well as my conversations with several attending physicians.
Know what’s expected of you.
“Call beforehand to ask when and where to show up, and ask if there’s anything they want you to know about before starting your rotation,” says Gail Feinberg, DO, a family physician in Ashland, Kentucky. Talk to other students who’ve rotated in that location. On the first day, find out exactly what is expected of you, and ask periodically if you’re meeting all expectations and what else you can do to improve.
“Every student should show up early, stay late, and try their best to become part of the team,” says David Pizzimenti, DO, an internist in Corinth, Mississippi. Don’t conveniently disappear when there’s work to do.
Have a good attitude.
Whether you enjoy the rotation you’re on or would rather be home watching Netflix, the more interest you show, the better experience you’ll have. On the flipside, don’t be a gunner. Remember that acting entitled is one of the quickest ways to get on your preceptor’s bad side.
Be an enthusiastic learner.
Ask if you can help with starting IVs, cleaning up rooms, or patient transport—it will show your colleagues that you’re a team player. Take advantage of opportunities in the community to volunteer at free clinics and outreach events—you can gain a lot of hands-on experience while helping others.
The more you read up on topics and cases that you come across, the better your education will be. Learn what’s important to a patient’s history and exam. Always come prepared by reading as much as you can about upcoming procedures before participating in them.
Know your limitations.
Identify what you’re comfortable with doing, and don’t be afraid to ask for help—it is not a sign of weakness. If you make a mistake, own up to it, learn from it, and move on. Don’t ever blame someone else or lie.
“If you let your preceptor know what your interests are, they can tailor what they teach based on your long-term goals,” says Michelino Mancini, DO, an emergency physician in St. Joseph, Michigan. “Learn how to accept feedback, whether or not you agree with it. It can be a very helpful tool to enable you to improve your skills.”
Dr. Mancini also advises students to understand the difference between mentorships and friendships, and not to get “too comfortable” with their preceptors.
Avoid office or hospital drama, and be mindful of what you post on social media—students have been kicked out of medical school for posting confidential patient information online. Unless it’s an emergency, never engage in personal text messaging, social media, or phone calls while you’re on a rotation.
Take care of yourself.
“Although grades are important, they aren’t everything,” stresses Sue Adams, DO, a family physician in Ironton, Ohio. “Remember to take time for yourself.” Clinical rotations can be intense, so give yourself a chance to unwind. Hang out with your friends and family, or spend time on a hobby you enjoy.