5 Tips To Survive And Thrive During Clinical Rotations

Kristy Crowley - May 27, 2017

Last updated: August 10, 2021. 

Clinical rotations are an exciting time. Finally, after countless hours in the classroom, you are now transitioning to a real-life, hands-on, practical care setting. So, what will make this transition to patient care successful? 

Here are some tips from Michelle Lundholm, an Internal Medicine resident at Loyola University
and graduate of Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. Michelle’s advice is especially helpful for students who are just getting into their rotations.

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1. Buddy-up with an MS4

Make friends with your fourth-year peers. Why? Medical students who have already completed their clinical rotations will have invaluable advice for those just beginning. Write down every question you might have and set up a time to pick their brains to learn the ins-and-outs of rotations. MS4’s will know exactly what future physicians will go through and can give insight into what clinical rotations will be like. 

According to Michelle:

“Sometimes, the hardest part of a clinical rotation is simply figuring out what is expected of you—whether that’s where to go, what to wear, or how late to stay. Make use of the people who have just gone through each rotation to get the inside scoop, that way you can save your time and energy for impressing your attending or rocking your Shelf exam. The best advice I ever gave a peer was where to go to find the only fridge in the hospital that stocked free ice cream. Even the little tips can help you get through the toughest of days.”

2. Practice the necessary skills for clinical rotations  

While you will learn a lot while on rotation, it is important to practice the necessary skills before starting. Come up with a list of things that you want to learn. Start early and study with a platform like AMBOSS to save time and spend less hours with your face in a book. Where available, take part in clinical workshops to master technical aspects. The more prepared you are before starting your clinical rotation, the better you will perform.

According to Michelle: 

“Sometimes it is challenging when you only have a couple of days between one rotation and the next to get organized and start studying. Personally, it was important to use some of that time to take a mini-mental break. But it’s also important to put yourself in a good position for the next rotation. The more you know going in, the better you will pick up on the details of patient care - and often it’s those details that you’ll be tested on in Shelf and Step exams. Also, if you wait until after you are asked about a topic to go learn it, you’ll have missed your opportunity to shine.”

Yes, you will learn a ton at work, but don't wait until you start your Clerkship to begin preparing. Instead, make the most out of your time prior to your start! 

3.  Stay open to learning - you will need this knowledge later on

If you are interested in cardiology, you may have a hard time getting psyched for your psychiatry rotation. During these times, you may find yourself questioning why it matters, especially when your interests have nothing to do with the rotation in which you are currently in. Just remember, as a future physician, you will care for patients with illnesses not confined to one discipline. You best be ready! The more open you are to learning, the better physician you will become.

According to Michelle:

“Who knows, maybe this will be the last time you will ever get to deliver a baby, or close an abdomen, or see a manic patient. You may never have the chance to be a neurologist, psychiatrist, obstetrician, surgeon, or pediatrician again… Why not make the most of it?” 

4.  Absorb information from your patients like a sponge

Take the time to learn something valuable from every patient you encounter. From understanding how to interact with different personality types to determining the symptoms for diabetes, each situation will award you the opportunity to learn something, if you pay attention. To assist you in absorbing patient information, keep a notebook with you. You can write down things you learned about the patient and review these notes later on.  

According to Michelle: 

“I never went anywhere without my notebook. I wrote down so many pearls, but also kept track of questions to research later. It came in handy for looking back on the rotation and preparing for the shelf - just be mindful of HIPAA regulations when writing down information pertinent to your patient’s care.”  

5. Enjoy life and medicine at the same time

There is nothing more exciting than experiencing clinical rotations for the first time while donning your starched, white coat. Rotations are where you learn how to become a doctor. Take the time to appreciate getting out of the classroom setting and learning how to practice medicine from actual physicians in real hospitals with real patients.  

And don’t forget to have fun. Enjoying life is equally as important as enjoying medicine. Make time for the important people in your life and the enjoyable activities you like to partake in. This will keep you sane during stressful periods and will be an important skill to hone so you can carry it with you into your future residency and practice.  

According to Michelle: 

Work-life balance is a struggle for many healthcare professionals - from medical students to attendings. We hear about physician burn-out all too often. Figure out how to navigate the balance early on in your career while you’re still forming your habits. Remember to invest time in your relationships and interests because it is very difficult to take great care of your patients if you don’t first take great care of yourself.” 

Your clinical rotations will be filled with great joys and sorrows, in addition to both extraordinary and harrowing moments. Write down your stories - good and bad - and record your firsts; you will have a lot of them. The world you are about to embark upon is so special and worth taking the time to record the journey along the way. 

According to Michelle: 

“You’ll look back and tell stories from your clerkships for the rest of your career! You’ll make invaluable friends and share in unforgettable patient experiences.” 

So, a big congratulations to you! We wish you a great start to the year, with amazing attendings, close hospital assignments, and great patient encounters. 

Preparing for the wards or your NBME® Shelf Exams?
Check out our Shelf and Clerkship resources.