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How to Introduce Yourself to Physicians During Rotations

  • by Dr. Brian Radvansky
  • Aug 25, 2022

It’s 2 a.m., time to place another epidural. This is a day in the life of an anesthesiologist on call.

I pull up a chair at the nearest computer and start to place orders. 

“Hi, I’m Steve. I’m the medical student on OB, but I’m really interested in anesthesia. Can I observe you place the epidural?”

Steve delivered this confidently, looking me in the eye, and seemed genuinely interested. I had to oblige! I narrated everything I was doing, he asked pertinent questions, and Steve left the experience with some newfound knowledge.

The most important part of this whole exchange was that Steve gave me a confident introduction before anything else. 

Now compare that to this situation that frequently presents itself:

I’m in the OR performing my usual cardiac anesthestic and managing the patient while performing echocardiography. Out of nowhere, someone in scrubs stands at the head of the bed, inches away from me, looks at me, says nothing, and peers over the drape to get a better view of the surgery. 

As I type this occurrence out, I can feel my blood pressure start to rise! I’m a very even-keeled, go-with-the-flow person, but every once in a rare while, something grinds my gears. Seeing yourself into my affairs without, at the very least, letting me know who you are, is a surefire way to start off on the wrong foot. 

How to Introduce Yourself During Rotations: The Anatomy of a Strong Introduction

An introduction is ridiculously simple. It’s canned. It’s the same every time. Whether you’re a medical student, PA student, or resident—no matter your rank or file—when you’re in a new situation, let the relevant parties know who you are. It will get you farther and is part of normal human civility.

Hi, I’m [name]. I’m [position] and was hoping to [action/learning experience]. Can I [your ask]?

Let’s break it down.

[Name]

Start every introduction like this. You can go with just first name, or first and last. No matter your rank, use your first name in the interaction. When the fresh medical school graduate introduces herself as “Dr. Cooper,” instead of “Alex” or “Alex Cooper” or even “Dr. Alex Cooper,” all humility is lost. 

“Nice to meet you, Dr. Cooper. I’m Brian. Swallow your pride.”

[Position]

What’s your place in the schema? Nurse? Nursing student? Medical student? Aspiring medical student? Visiting doctor from abroad? Letting someone know your position does a lot for your cause. If you’re hoping to learn something from your presence here (aren’t we always?), this can help your mentor explain concepts and actions in the right levels of depth. My epidural explanation for a college student is a lot different than the guidance I give to a resident. Framing your context nicely segues into what comes next.

Hoping to [action/learning experience]

Why are you here today? Because your rotation leader said you had to be? Bad answer. What are you hoping to gain from the experience? Are you here to learn about something? 

Did you want to observe the flow of the cardiac surgery room so you can elevate your consciousness when rounding in the ICU? That’s incredibly helpful for me to know, as I can convey the salient features of what happens in the OR and how it can affect ICU care. 

Are you here to learn about echocardiogram interpretation? AOK! We can forgo the intubation and vital signs and focus on the pictures on the screen.

Did you want to get some more IV experience on a sleeping patient instead of fiddling around the arm of your difficult-stick, morbidly obese dialysis patient? You came to the right place.

[Your ask]

I know what you’re hoping to do. That’s great. Now be explicit and ask for what you want; it’s the surest way to get it. 

“Could you please explain the study to me?”

“Could you explain your place in the surgery?”

“Can I try the IV?”

To say that you’ve been struggling with IVs and want to get better will get you sympathy and understanding. To say, “Can I try the IV?” will get you an opportunity to do so.

Between the lines

The words are only half the battle. It’s important to come out firing with confidence, whether real or fake, in order to be taken as seriously as possible. A mousy request might frame you as weak, novice, or naive. Using a firm but friendly tone will generate more respect. 

Like any interaction, good eye contact will also help. Also, while the words you use will likely all be thought of ahead of time (a canned request), it’s key to sound natural, enthused, and genuinely interested in doing what you are asking to do.

Don’t miss out on the power of a solid introduction. It might be the first interaction of a professional relationship that can last years, so do it confidently when given the opportunity.

Further Reading

Photo by Branimir Balogović on Unsplash