Making the Change: Transition to Clinical Rotations with Ease

by Shehni Nadeem and Faroukh Mehkri

Finally!  Most medical students rejoice at the end of basic sciences and welcome clinical rotations as a much needed change of pace.  This is an exciting time to contribute to patients, families, and medical teams.  It is also a time when the amount to learn, see, and do can seem overwhelming.

Setting yourself up for success

There are two parts to this: short-term success and long-term success.  To set yourself up for a positive medical student rotation, understand your role on the team from the start of the rotation.  Review any handouts provided by the clerkship director.  Ask the residents and attending what their expectations are of you. This gives you tangible goals to work towards.

For long-term success, arrive 20 minutes early daily.  Make that a habit.  Coming in early will allow you to anticipate needs of the team and to prepare yourself for the ever changing needs of your patient.  You will appear proactive and mature, fantastic characteristics for you to carry into your career as a physician.

Read a little each day

Your academic performance during clinical rotations is vital.  Not only does it influence your ability to land the residency of your dreams, but it has a direct impact on your ability to contribute to patient care.  Find an interesting patient or one that really challenged you, and read about that patient’s condition.  Make a plan on how to tackle your review books.  Try to read a relevant journal article each week.  Do practice questions to better apply the concepts.  Then, ask informed questions to learn even more!

Ask for feedback

Ask the team how they think you are progressing towards the goals outlined for you at the start of the clerkship.  Try to elicit direction on what you do well and how to improve.  Schedule times to ask for feedback at the midpoint and end of the clerkships.  In the case of shift work, ask for feedback towards the end of the shift.  Make the most of this experience even if you do not plan to pursue the field long-term; it may be the last time you have the chance to learn from the expert!

Keep snacks on hand

Medicine is unpredictable, and sometimes there is no clearly defined lunch break.  Get in the habit of having a lunch available on busier clerkships whether you pack one or pick one up before the day begins.  Keep a few healthy snacks to keep you energized, as days (and sometimes nights) can stretch long!

Strike a balance

Rotations are demanding both mentally and physically.  You will have non-traditional hours in many settings which can wear on your interpersonal relationships as well as your overall well-being.  Make it a point to schedule time with friends and family.  Try to find time to exercise or stick with that hobby you love.  Most of all, make lasting friendships with your fellow students.  Clinical rotations are a time of incredible bonding and camaraderie over unique, shared experiences.

“Life is 10% what happens to you, 90% how to react to it” – Swindoll