For most medical students the first clinical rotation is always an emotional time. You go to your assigned hospital in the morning and you really don’t know what to expect. Of course you might have some idea about what goes on at the hospital and what you should do, but even with older friends to give you advice you can still find yourself totally unprepared on the first day.
Benefiting fully from your clinical rotations can make a huge difference in your medical education. This is when we finally get a chance to integrate the knowledge from the books with day-to-day patient interactions.
What to expect?
1. Patient interactions
Patients can be scary for a medical student. Your first encounters will probably be clumsy, but that’s OK. That’s how all the great doctors began their careers. Even your most esteemed university professors had embarrassing moments. You may not find the right words to say to the patient, you may be asked a question you have no idea how to answer. Just relax and take it all in, admit to yourself that you are just a medical student who is there to learn. Patients always miss having someone to talk to so try to be that person. Try to really understand what they are going through and they will be kind to you. If you can’t manage to take an accurate history at first, don’t worry! As you gain more experience everything becomes second-nature.
2. Doctor interactions
Depending on where you live in the world, there may be different approaches to clinical medical education, but the idea remains the same: Students will be following a doctor around the hospital. That’s how it usually is. As time passes you will start to have more responsibilities yourself, but first you must see how things are done.
The doctor responsible for the medical students is usually very kind and will gladly help you out if you are really interested in learning something. Try not to be a know-it-all and be open to learning whatever he/she might teach you. He has years of experience in dealing with patients, in administering drugs etc. Ask many questions, there are no stupid ones.
If you are asked a question about something you haven’t got a clue about, never be afraid to say: “I don’t know”. You are there to learn.
Try to come to your rotations well-prepared. Reading your textbooks in advance really helps you out by making it easier to integrate everything. Reading attentively creates a structure on which you can add various other knowledge. During clinical rotations, doctors don’t really have the time to give you the information in an organized manner. You will be seeing lots of patients, signs, diseases and procedures in a very short time so you should know the theory in order to ask better questions.
Getting the most out of your Clinical Rotation:
1. Be organized
Being organized helps by not keeping your mind busy with less important things. It’s tough to concentrate on what is being explained if you keep thinking about the errands you haven’t yet run. Try making “to-do” lists and stick with them.
In terms of medical knowledge, set goals for yourself, try to figure out what it is you want to know/be able to do by the end of the rotation. This will help you focus your efforts. A bonus to being organized and geared toward your goals is that you’ll seem like you’re actually busy, not just roaming the halls of the hospital getting in everybody’s way 🙂
2. Ask questions
The best memory aid out there is asking questions. Even if you have already read about a topic, there are always details you might of missed. Don’t hesitate to ask whatever it is you don’t understand. Ask as many as you can because people actually enjoy feeling useful and teaching you things!
3. Know your patients
Try to keep a notebook/file with data concerning the patients in the clinic. This doesn’t need to be official, just have some notes written down. This way you will always know who is who and who has what. If you’re not good with remembering names, this will certainly come in handy when you go talk to a patient. Keep notes about personal things as well, not just disease journals. If it is their birthday, do congratulate them! There is nothing worse than being in the hospital for your birthday. Try to understand what they do for a living, know how many kids they have etc.
Everyone will appreciate it if you do this. Doctors and even nurses often don’t have the time to talk to their patients, but you have more time on your hands and less responsibility. Don’t miss out on this wonderful chance to make a difference!
Depending on where you study, the clinical rotations can be more or less oriented towards students learning practical procedures. Knowing how to do simple procedures even as a medical student helps you in many ways:
– you lock in theoretical knowledge by actually doing the procedures you read about
– you gain confidence and motivation
– you develop reflexes. In an emergency situation you will not need to think about what to do next. It will come naturally and you won’t screw up.
5. Ask about research
Medicine would not go anywhere without research. Believe it or not, you are the future of humanity. This may sound as a bit of a burden but in fact, you and your colleagues will decide how we will be treated 50-100 years from now.
Always ask the doctors about research programs and how to get involved. You may not do an learn very much at first, but you will become open to new ideas. You will learn how to read a medical text critically to judge its value. You may even be taking your first steps towards discovering a cure for cancer. You never know unless you try.
6. Know the hospital staff
Above I mentioned learning patients’ names. It is equally important (or even more important) to know the names of the staff at the hospital. I’m not just talking about the professors and doctors. Everybody is important in a hospital. Learn the names of the nurses, accountants, janitors. Be a people person because medicine is built around interactions with others. You need everybody just as much as they need you. Be gentle and have common-sense and you will get far. Your new friends will help you along the way.