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5 Tips for Succeeding in Clinical Year Rotations

One of the most daunting tasks for me during PA school was the transition from Didactic year and sitting in a classroom to Clinical Year and treating patients. As much as I was so thrilled to start rotations, I was filled with a ton of anxiety over the idea that I didn’t know enough to be seeing patients. I’m the first to admit that I didn’t do as well as I would have liked during Didactic year; I struggle with test taking - which is basically the only thing first year is made up of. With the start of rotations, I was so worried that I would be preforming below my preceptor’s expectations and that I would struggle to apply my book knowledge to actual clinical situations.

Now that I’m in my last rotation of PA school, I can confidently say that those fears were mostly unfounded. Yes, I had my own share of challenges during clinical year and there were definitely some preceptors that were tougher than others. But for the most part, the year went very smoothly, and I think a lot of that has to do with the way that I entered into rotations. I tried to go into each rotation with the mindset that this was the only time I was going to get that opportunity, and that I need to make the most out of it. As daunting as clinical year is, you only get one shot at it, and you want to do whatever it takes to succeed.

So with that said, here are my 5 Tips for Succeeding in Clinical Year Rotations!

#1: Accept that you’re still learning

You’re a student. You’re expected to make mistakes and ask questions – studies have shown that this is one of the better methods for learning. Embrace that student persona, because this is one of those times that its actually encouraged. If you make a mistake, own up to it and ask what you could have done better or what the preceptor would have done in your shoes. Also, at the start of each rotation, ask your preceptor what is expected of you. Having a clear picture of what those expectations are will help you work towards meeting them. Real world is a lot different than classrooms or simulated patients, and it’s okay for there to be some bumps as you transition. Accepting the fact that you’re still learning will make it easier for you to succeed and impress your preceptors.

#2: Be enthusiastic

Even if you hate the rotation that you’re on, remember that this is your preceptor’s career. Which means they probably like what they’re doing. Go in and treat every day like it’s an opportunity to learn something new. There’s only going to be this one time in your career where you have the chance to rotate through different specialties and gain experience from them, and you want to take advantage of it. The easiest way to do this is to be enthusiastic. If you get offered the chance to do something, say yes. Ask to observe the things you haven’t seen before, and then ask questions once it’s finished. Be proactive in your learning experience. Reach out to all of the members of the healthcare team, from techs to attendings in different specialties, and ask questions. You’ll be surprised where some of your greatest learning moments come from.

#3: Remember that you’re there for the experience, not the grade

I can’t even stress how important this is. I’ve had so many preceptors tell me how frustrating they find it when they can easily tell a student is only there for the grade. If you’re present and active in your learning experience, the grade will come. And at the end of the day, the experiences you gained from clinical rotations are a lot more important than the grade. This could be your only opportunity to perform a pelvic exam or scrub into the OR on a trauma patient. Take advantage of it!

#4: Practice saying “I don’t know, but I’ll look it up”

This goes hand-in-hand with accepting that you’re still learning. There are definitely going to be preceptors who “pimp” you about topics, and it can be really stressful to not remember what the answer is. We learn so much during school that it can be easy to forget some of this knowledge, and I know my first instinct isn’t to admit I didn’t know something. I’m scrambling and running through every possible related piece of information in my mind. But I learned very early on in my clinical year that if I just owned up to not knowing that question and said I would look it up, my preceptor had a better reaction then if I rambled out some irrelevant knowledge. Make sure to actually go home and look it up though. Then come back the next day and ask any questions on things you might be confused with. It shows that your respectful, eager to learn, and true to your word – all of those things any medical professional needs to be.

#5: Find a good pocket resource to use

There are a ton of great resources out there for you to use, and it can be kind of stressful to find the right one. Do you want to go with an app on your phone, and possible have it look like you’re not paying attention, or do you want to go with a physical resource so there’s no questions about what you’re doing? At the end of the day, find something that works for you and stick with it throughout the rotation. I usually asked my preceptors first day what some of the resources they recommended I use and tried to go with those. But these pocket resources are a saving grace. If your preceptor is in a room with a different patient and you’re confused as to what’s going on with the patient you saw, pull out that resource and look it up! They’re a great way to get information on the go and be somewhat less conspicuous about it.

I hope you’ve found these tips helpful for your success in clinicals. Clinical rotations are truly a once in a lifetime chance to explore the different fields of medicine, so make sure to take advantage of them!