Conquering Clinicals: How 3rd-Year Students Can Stand Out (In a Good Way)

With five semesters in the bag, we as medical students anxiously look toward our clinical rotations in the coming months. Since everything I know about clinicals came from the “Short White Coat,” I decided to get in touch with my Introduction to Clinical Medicine (ICM) Preceptor Dr. Athena Andreadis and ICM Fellow Dr. Dhara Patel for some pointers.


To all my peers entering clinicals, take note.

1.  Always arrive early (and when appropriate, stay late)

Not only will we be visiting hospitals with strange, labyrinthine layouts, being on time is one of the quickest and easiest ways we can be evaluated. Arriving early and staying until we have addressed every task for the patients on our team will show our passion for the work and make us stick out (in a good way!). Whether running samples down to the lab or volunteering to check on a difficult patient, make the most of any down time on the floor to show your dedication.

2.  First impressions are HUGE!

As hard as we work or perform during our rotations, it won’t be easy to shake off a rough first impression within the small time we’re rotating. In the words of Dr. Andreadis, “Always make a good first impression with your dress, timeliness, and enthusiasm.” Keep in mind that hundreds of medical students will be rotating through the same spots we do, making positive first impressions are just that more important. Be it the director of the program or the kitchen staff, a smile and a “How are you today?” will go a long way.

3.  Be interested and engaged

Our clinical rotations represent the only time we will have the opportunity to learn about many conditions by interacting with the patients that suffer from them. Pay attention to your residents, attendings, and nurses and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Simply put, if maintaining your pride and self-image is a motivating factor for you, then you are still thinking like a student, not a physician. “This is your time not to know, and you will make mistakes,” said Dr. Dhara Patel. “So be curious, explore, and learn.”

4.  Don't be afraid to ask questions

Though many of us have a mental image of getting pimped by “Dr. Cox” (of the television show Scrubs) with a blank stare on our faces, there is nothing wrong with admitting you simply don’t know. It can make you look more professional says Dr. Andreadis. “If you hear about something on rounds or you are asked a question you don't know the answer to, respond with ‘I will look it up right away and present on this topic.' Doing so demonstrates your commitment to continued learning and will help you apply your basic science knowledge in the context of a patient presentation.”

5.  Be strategic when requesting for LoRs

A fundamental part of our application to residency programs is the letters of recommendation (LoRs). The most recent National Resident Matching Program (NRMP) Program Director Survey listed LoRs within an applicant’s desired specialty as the second most cited factor for inviting applicants for an interview; number one was Step score.

Getting good LoRs can make or break our residency applications, so making sure you ask the right MD is key. Dr. Dhara Patel recalls asking for her first LoR.

“When I first asked, all I could think was ‘How do I do this?’ but making a plan and gathering all of the pieces beforehand will make asking for the letter much easier,” says Dr. Patel. “It’s a good idea to start working on your CV and personal statement halfway through your third year.”

While scoring high marks in medical sciences is key, standing out in rotations will take a different skillset.

“Note that the first five ways to be a stand out clinical student have almost nothing to do with your knowledge base,” says Dr. Andreadis. “While it requires knowledge to make it through medical school, we must remember to hold tightly onto that kind, caring part of ourselves. It’s that part that will make us doctors.”

This blog was contributed by Aaron Brown, a fifth semester student at AUC. Aaron will take the USMLE Step 1 exam in October and plans to start his clinical rotations in January.

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