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Tips for Surviving (and Thriving) Even When You Hate Your Current Rotation

It took me all of 45 minutes to realize that I hated my psychiatry rotation.

After growing accustomed to the fast paced rounds of obstetrics and gynecology, here I was, 45 minutes later, still talking to the same damn patient. On the outside, I was smiling and acting like I was paying attention to the ongoing line of questions – but on the inside, I was ready to have my own psychotic break. And while I tried to keep it together and make the most of this rotation, little by little I saw myself going from being a dedicated, third year medical student to being Marshawn Lynch at a press conference—I’m just here so I don’t get fined (or in my case, fail).

It is probably no surprise that I didn’t get a lot out of my psychiatry rotation, nor did I leave the greatest impression on my residents and attending during that month. And as I’ve moved forward in my medical career, and dealt with similarly disinterested medical students, I often times find myself looking back and wishing I could have done something differently. Whether you like a rotation or not, you have every reason to want to make the most out of each clinical experience.

So why should you care about every rotation? Moving beyond your desire to earn a strong evaluation and maintain the opportunity for honors, I can think of several reasons:

1. You’ll need the knowledge later on.

Going in to obstetrics and gynecology, it might be easy to say that your cardiology rotation doesn’t matter. Similarly, the student preparing for a career in general surgery might have a hard time getting excited about their psychiatry clerkship. But like it or not, you’re going to end up caring for patients with illnesses that stretch across disciplines. I’ve spent plenty of time wishing I had a better understanding of psychiatric diagnoses in the outpatient setting – just like I have met plenty of residents who wished they had a better understanding of reading an EKG. The more you learn now, the better doctor you can become.

2. It’s a small world.

You might not think that your current resident matters to your career, but you never know whose spouse is in the field you do like or who has a close friend in that field. Regardless, you never want to make a bad impression on someone who will one day be your peer or may have the ability to impact your career.

3. You can make a difference.

Whether you like the rotation or not, your team is counting on you to carry your weight. Having a bad student can affect the morale of the residents and can lead to worse patient care. Moreover, by not engaging in the rotation, you are providing a disservice to the patients who need your help.

With that in mind, you’re not going to like every single rotation. And while you might struggle to see any practical implications for your future career, you can take some steps to make sure you get the most out of even your most hated rotation.

To do that, here’s my advice:

Come up with a list of things you do want to learn.

For the student interested in internal medicine but on a psychiatry rotation, try to work with patients who have underlying medical conditions. By searching out opportunities to make the rotation more applicable to your preferred career, your residents will appreciate your effort and you can stay motivated to see the learning opportunities.

Remember your shelf.

You can like the rotation or not, but you still have to take a test at the end of it. The more you learn at work, the less time you might be spending with your face in a book. And with that said, don’t wait until the last few weeks of your clerkship to start preparing for your shelf.

Start studying early on in your rotation with UWorld, and you’ll be thanking yourself for having done so come test day. (Also, read this if you’re having trouble with your Shelf exams.)

Think about the patients.

Rather than passing the buck and claiming to just be a student – I encourage students to take ownership for each one of their patients. This way, whether you like a rotation or not, you’ll feel a sense of commitment in caring for their problems and a sense of pride when things go right.

Keep these tips in mind and keep your head up. Each day is a chance to learn. (And on that note, check out this post about the things one of my colleagues wished she had known about clerkships.)