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Four Tips for Starting a New Clinical Rotation

Clinical rotations are a major part of medical school, and starting a new rotation can be daunting, especially in third year. The following are tips to help you succeed when you are apprehensive about your new rotation, or unsure about how to get started.

1) Get advice from your classmates.

Nobody knows the rotation better than the classmate of yours who just finished it last week. Don’t be afraid to bug them about who the best attendings to work with are, what they did between cases, or how they spent their time outside of the rotation. Most schools have some kind of resource from previous students on the rotation that includes student advice – this may be worth seeking out. Going in to a new rotation knowing what to expect will reduce anxiety and help you to be better prepared.

2) Ask your residents and attendings for expectations on your first day.

Most residents and attendings are quite busy, and some may never have even worked with a medical student before. Whereas the broad expectations of medical students are made quite clear by whoever directs the clerkship, certain attendings or residents may have additional expectations (or fewer expectations). Some may expect a topic presentation at the end. Others may expect you to have presented at least 5 patients in clinic. Knowing these expectations upfront will ensure that your performance is constantly meeting your evaluators’ expectations.

3) Read and ask questions.

It goes without saying that success in medical school comes with reading, but this does not get said enough for rotations that are not graded as stringently. Taking time to be a part of a medical rotation implies you are working in an arena you know little about. Therefore, having an academic background in the topic is almost a prerequisite, even if there is no formal evaluation at the end. Imagine trying to do an orthopedic surgery rotation without ever having learned anatomy – what purpose would that serve you?

Beyond just reading, take the opportunity to ask questions about things you don’t understand. Everyone tends to be happy to answer questions, and you may be surprised by what you might learn. Make sure the questions you ask demonstrate that you are reading outside of the rotation, as asking questions that should be obvious to anyone who has done background reading might make you look like a slacker.

4) Demonstrate enthusiasm and initiative, but don’t be a gunner.

Enthusiasm and initiative are the keys to getting an excellent grade on your rotation. Thus, being excited about new patients and cases and frequently volunteering to help will make you more likely to be noticed by your team. If there is an opportunity to walk a patient to the MRI, do it. If there is an opportunity to participate in an OR case, do it. While these tasks may seem mundane, you’re making your resident’s day easier — which won’t go unnoticed.

All this being said, being enthusiastic and taking initiative can be overdone. If you are literally volunteering to do everything for a resident to the point you are asking to make their dinner reservations for them, you have overdone it. The point of being a good medical student is to go noticed as a valuable and irreplaceable member of the team, and not an overeager overachiever that doesn’t understand their role as a medical student. Avoiding this means you need to be adaptable and be able to read the room. An even easier way is to ask for feedback from your residents and attendings to see if they are happy with your role on the team.

As a parting thought, doing well on a new rotation is all about having a good attitude and working hard. If you are willing to put in the hard work, show up, and actually be present every day, the rest of the above steps will come easy to you. Good luck!