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Clinical Rotations: 5 Tips to Succeed & Find Meaning

As medical students, we have spent our entire lives learning new information, and we are good at it! Now, however, our job is more practical, and we are not sure where to place all this knowledge. Trial and error of course lead to improved clinical experiences on rotations; however, I wish I had been told the following when starting out on my clinical rotations. These are some common themes and anecdotes I have gathered from a variety colleagues, residents, and attendings about finding meaning during clinical rotations. These suggestions are specifically for those rotations with a significant inpatient component (ie Internal Medicine)

Five Tips for Clinical Rotation Success

1. Don’t let the EMR inhibit you from seeing the patient before rounds

So many times, you will be tempted to learn everything that happened in the last 24 hours through nursing notes, vital review tabs, and labs. However, nothing is worse than rounding with your team and you realize no one has talked to the patient from the team in over 12 hours and they have important new symptoms you didn’t elicit. In short, pre-round on patients in person!

2. Don’t let the hospitals layout (or remodels) make or break your pre-rounds

It’s important to be familiar with the layout of the hospital at which you are rotating. Spending some time learning the layout of the hospital can really improve your speed during rounds and help your team. If you know where all the patients are, you can lead the team and look extra impressive!

3. Go back to see your patient in the afternoon just to talk to them

We’ve heard it many times, but it remains true the medical student should know more about the patient than anyone else on the team.” You have the time to do so, and you should go back to learn as much as possible about the patient. It’s hard before rounds to talk to a patient for an hour about your common interest in Italian food, but these conversations can happen in the afternoon and help build trust between the patient and team. Active listening to the patient also goes a long way in supporting your team. Your Attending and Residents will likely be thankful that you have already triaged the patients’ primary concerns.

4. Talk to Radiology! Better yet, go visit Radiology!

Check with your team first but You can learn a lot (and look super impressive) by stopping by Radiology and getting the scoop on your patients CT, MRI, etc. This will help you feel like you have a meaningful role on the team. This is particularly important when you are dealing with an unknown diagnosis and the imaging is critical for the differential.

5. Stay up to date on your patients in the afternoon! CHECK THE EMR OFTEN in the PM!

So many labs, images, and new results will become available in the afternoon that may affect the care of your patients. Frequently checking the EMR will help you be in the know and also shows your team that you are actively participating in the patient’s care.


Here are more posts to help you shine on clerkships:

10 Essential Tips for Surviving Your First Clinical Rotation of Third Year

Things I Wish I Had Known About Clerkships

What NOT to Do on a Clinical Rotation

Tips for Surviving and Thriving When You Hate Your Current Clinical Rotation

Lock Down Your Clerkship and Step 2 CK Study Timeline

How to Handle a Clerkship/Step 2 CK Scheduling Mismatch

How to Succeed on the Emergency Medicine Clerkship

6 Simple Tips for Surgery Clerkship Success