Standing out during your medical school rotations

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Gap medics students with a doctor in a Tanzanian hospital. For your first two years of medical school, you will be attending lectures and spending your time in the classroom. Your third year, things change. In your third year of medical school, you start clinical rotations, which means you will have a chance to treat patients. 

How rotations work

Clinical rotations during medical school may vary depending on the school you attend. Usually, rotations start the third year of medical school and are held at medical centers affiliated with the medical school. Typical rotations during the third year include family medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, psychiatry and internal medicine.

During your fourth year of clinical rotations, you may also have an anesthesiology, radiology, neurology and emergency medicine rotation.  Keep in mind that the exact rotations offered may vary by school. The length of time each rotations lasts also varies. Some rotations may be 12 weeks while other may be six.

Rotations are classified as either core or elective. The core rotations are the ones you are required to take. The bright side is you can choose your elective rotations.  

School policies will differ on how they determine a rotation schedule. Depending on the number of students in your class, you will likely be assigned to a clinical site with a few classmates. Although you will have contact with attending physicians, residents will be doing most of the teaching during your clinical rotations.

During rotations, you will arrive and work your scheduled shift and stay until the resident dismisses you. Rotations should be treated just like a job. You won’t be paid for the job. In fact, you are paying to work, but it is an essential part of your training.

Standing out for all the right reasons  

Your clinical rotations are a big deal for a variety of reasons. Although you may have learned a lot in lecture, applying your knowledge and developing skills is often done on the job. You can study all day and night, but the only way you will develop strong communications skills and a good bedside manner with patients is by actually seeing patients.  

Rotations also provide you with a glimpse at what a certain specialty of medicine involves. Going through rotations may help you decide what area of medicine you want to pursue. You will also be interacting with doctors, nurses and other staff. Learning how to work as a team will be invaluable experience.

During rotations, there are several things you can do to standout including those listed below:

Put in the extra effort: As a med student you will be asked to do certain tasks. In some situations, consider volunteering to do more. For example, ask your resident if you can do anything to help them. Residents work lots of hours, and you may score points for easing their workload.

Be prepared: As a med student, you will likely see fewer patients than the residents. This should give you enough time to review your patients’ charts thoroughly. Read their medical histories, physician notes and review labs and other diagnostics tests. 

Don’t complain: Sometimes, as a med student, you may feel you are at the bottom of the chain of command—which you are. You may have to do tasks you think you shouldn’t. You may also get scolded when you think it is not warranted. Complaining is not looked upon as favorable, so unless the situation is completely inappropriate, there is not too much you can do about it. Keep in mind that clinical rotations don’t last forever, and soon you will be moving on.

Be up front and center: Don’t hide in the back during a procedure or a patient exam. Take opportunities to perform procedures, assist where you can and learn from each experience. You are not expected to get everything right as a medical student—in the near future you will be the doctor, and you need to know you stuff. Now is the time to learn.

Arrive early and stay late: Arriving early gives you a chance to review charts and organize your day. In addition, it shows your dedication to the job. If nothing is going on, you can use the time to study.

Always be professional: Conveying a professional attitude is important for a medical student. Wear professional business clothing and make sure your white lab coat is always clean. In addition to dressing professionally and always being neat, your attitude should also be professional. For example, avoid pulling out your phone and checking every text or email.

Show respect to everyone:  As a medical student, you will have contact with doctors, nurses, technicians, patients and family members. Everyone, regardless of his or her role, should be treated with respect. Sometimes, not only the physicians are your teachers. You may also learn lessons from many of the other people you meet during your rotations.  

You made a mistake: what now?

Maybe you are doing everything you can to stand out and make a good impression, but something goes wrong. Whether you did a procedure wrong, answered a question incorrectly during rounds or overslept and were late, don’t freak out. Medical students are not expected to know everything and mistakes will be made.

Don’t take too many things personally. If you made a mistake, it is your resident’s job to correct you and provide you with constructive criticism. Although no one likes to make a mistake, it is part of the learning process. The sooner you accept this, the better off you will be. When you start to feel stressed, keep in mind that rotations last a short time in the scheme of things.

Lastly, remember where you came from. Someday, not too long from now, you will have fresh-faced medical students to supervise. Hopefully, you will teach them a few things, mentor them well and help mold them into competent physicians. When you do, remember where you started, and once in a while cut them just a little slack.

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