Medical School Life

4 things to know before you start clinical rotations

Your third year of medical school is typically the one in which your patient interactions ramp up. It’s the transition from classroom to clinic, making for a different type of learning environment.

Access FREIDA™

Quickly search and sort more than 11,000 fellowship and residency programs with easy to use filters that can be saved to your member-only dashboard.

Learn More

Here’s a look at some do’s, don’ts, tips and tricks that will help you thrive during clinical training.

Support the support staff

As a medical student, nurses, patient care assistants and other members of the care team will frequently make your life easier. You are well served by returning the favor—or word may reach the residents under whom you’re training.

“Nobody is above anything and medicine is a team effort,” said MohammedMoiz Qureshi, MD, an emergency medicine resident at Penn State’s Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. “I love my nurses to death. If you’re treating your nurses well, they will definitely relay that to me. Even if I didn’t interact with you all shift, if I have a nurse that comes up to me after the fact and says, ‘He was absolutely phenomenal,’ I’ll remember. So if you lack something in medical knowledge, you can make up for it in overall helpfulness.”

Your rotations offer specialty insight

Clinical rotations give students the experience they need to make informed decisions about what to practice, so “choose your medical school rotations wisely … get broad exposure to specialties, and look at them first hand,” said Chris Dangles, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Advocate Health Care in Bloomington, Illinois.

“I have a wife who knew she wanted to be a plastic surgeon from the time she was five years old and fortunately she was able to do that. Myself, as an orthopedic surgeon, I didn’t pick the specialty until my last year of medical school,” he said, noting that he gave himself the time he needed in training to gain exposure to orthopedic surgery before choosing the specialty.

Remember your patients

With each patient encounter, a medical student is given an opportunity to learn. If you get to know your patients on a personal level, it might help you remember material during shelf exams, which are typically administered at the conclusion of each rotation.

“Let’s say someone came into the hospital with a case of pneumonia, and you treated it and it improved. One of the best things you can do is get to know that patient, and that way it’s actually a study aid,” said Michael J. Rigby, an MD/PhD student in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Medical Scientist Training Program who just completed his clinical rotations.

“The more you know about that patient, their personal life, who they are, what they do, you are actually going to help yourself root that concept in memory,” Dr. Rigby said. “So getting to know the patients on your team can actually be very helpful for your own academic needs.”

Related Coverage

6 simple ways to master patient communication

Don’t ignore the dress code

Professional attire can help you make the right first impression with your patients.

“Unfortunately, how you look definitely has an impact on your appearance of confidence,” Rigby said. “You’re wearing scrubs or professional attire, so ties for men, dresses or dress pants for women. Basically, if you’re seeing a patient, you should look as if you’re an attending or resident. Residents tend to be a bit more lax with their appearance. They get a pass because they are overworked, but definitely medical students have to look the part.”