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How to Have a “Better” Clinical Rotation Experience

Img_0028_1_of_1Kendra Campbell -- I just finished reading the book, Better, by one of my favorite authors, Atul Gawande. In the afterword, Gawande gives his list of “Suggestions for Becoming a Positive Deviant.” I absolutely agreed with all of his suggestions, and it inspired me to write my own list for making your clinical rotation experiences “better.” Here are some tips that have worked well for me thus far:

1. Don’t be afraid to complain. Today, at the end of a lecture, a surgeon asked us how our rotation was going. Everyone pretty much replied “okay.” Then (knowing that we were all holding back our negative remarks), he asked us to be honest and speak up about the things that we didn’t like. In true med student form, everyone remained silent. I broke the ice and offered up a piece of constructive criticism. Eventually, everyone else chimed in with their own complaints. He reminded us that we need to be vocal about giving feedback. I actually agree with Gawande, that sitting around with colleagues and complaining all the time is a horrible idea. However, providing constructive criticism to the powers that be shows that you care, and shows that you’re not afraid to take a stand.

2. Introduce yourself to everyone. Of course, in med school we are taught to always introduce ourselves to the patient. This is obviously important. But how often do we take the time to introduce ourselves to the nurses? How often do we just walk up to someone and ask them for something, without introducing ourselves first? I’ve learned that an introduction can go a long way. And as Gawande mentioned in his book, getting to know someone by asking them a more personal question is also a fabulous way of making friends, not to mention making the hospital more of a fun place to be.

3. Stand out. As Ben Bryner pointed out in his recent entry, standing out can come in handy in many ways. Even without my pink hair, I tend to stand out in a crowd of med students. It’s not even always an intentional thing for me. But when it comes to making good impressions on attendings, residents, and patients, standing out can be a great asset. Not to mention when it comes to getting letters of recommendation down the road. Know what is unique about yourself, and use that to your advantage.

4. Smile. Smile. Smile. A smile can be worth a million words. I always try to smile at people as I pass by. When I walk past a patient’s room, even if I don’t know them, I give them a friendly smile. Obviously, there are times when a smile is inappropriate. But for the most part, a friendly smile can brighten someone’s day, make them feel more relaxed, and show them that you care. Even if you’re tired and have had a hard day, try to spread some joy with a nice contagious smile.

5. Get your money’s worth. You’re paying a lot of money to be trained and learn from your clinical rotation. Even though you’re expected to do a lot of work, you’re paying for the experience! Learn as much as you can, and remember that the point of the rotation is not to be tortured or to just “make it through.” You are there to learn, and you’re paying money for that privilege! You’ll never have this kind of experience again, so make the best of it!

6. Make friends with your fellow students. This tip seems pretty obvious to me, but some people seem to ignore it. Get to know your fellow students. Not only can this make the rotation more enjoyable, but it can also come in immensely handy. When an attending asks you a question and you blank, how awesome is it to have a good friend whisper the answer in your ear?!

That’s all I can think of for now. To all you fellow students out there doing your clinical rotations: good luck and try to make your experience even better!

September 25, 2008 in Kendra Campbell | Permalink


I'm only a first year medical student now and havent really experience any clinical rotation yet but i find your tips to be inspiring and worth knowing. Thanks a lot.

Posted by: Michelle | Sep 25, 2008 7:07:41 PM

Great tips. but to add to that I guess you should try to impress your lecturers and professors by taking on more clinical work during your leisure or spare time, in case of obtaining more clinical experience.

Posted by: George | Sep 27, 2008 11:27:37 AM

Its funny how at my school, the deans and other students who think they know more than everyone else continuously tell us that we should not complain about anything, that if we complain the people in charge will make our lives miserable. They say that in clinical rotations we will be lower than the janitorial staff. I'm at a foreign medical school, that's probably why.

Posted by: Angelou | Sep 30, 2008 4:29:13 PM

Thanks Kendra, I couldn't agree with you more. As one of your fellow students, I can vouch that I've seen you put these suggestions into action. I've noticed that for some of my clinical rotations thus far, the bar for medical students is set pretty low therefore making it relatively easy to coast and go unnoticed. However, just as you mentioned, it's the folks that show up early, read up on their rotations, and get to know the staff that really stand out and essentially get the most out of their experience.

Posted by: David Z | Oct 1, 2008 1:55:06 PM

Thanks so much for the tips Kendra, i agree 100% with you in all the points, I'm a med student from Mexico and I'm in my 4th year of medical education so i've experienced the rotations and it could be very hard or very easy, hospitals are hospitals wherever we lived and wherever we help people, the smile tip that's going to be my challenge this week i like the idea of made people more happy and relax.

Posted by: Natalia H | Oct 1, 2008 2:35:28 PM

A great list of tips Kendra. You have covered many critical aspects that can improve achievement and promote success.

Atul Gawande's book "Better" is fantastic, I thoroughly enjoyed it and gained a new perspective on medicine and performance. Highly recommended.

Posted by: Jennifer H | Oct 1, 2008 4:15:05 PM

very useful tips

Posted by: Basmah | Oct 1, 2008 6:05:44 PM

It's great know your ideas, smile is the best medicine for a patient who has lost all hope

Posted by: jack zero | Oct 1, 2008 8:20:18 PM

i am really encouraged by this mail.
thank you.

Posted by: sarrah | Oct 1, 2008 8:28:14 PM

that's great Kendra, i like the idea about introducing one'sself to all.kind of makes you feel more at home. And about smiling, that's abig confidence booster.

Posted by: caleb | Oct 3, 2008 3:44:17 AM

hai kendra, i havent read this book but find the tips to make a good amount of sense! however living every one of them from monday to friday including those exhausting weekend calls is a different thing! i totally support & hope i right a paper on it one of these nice days in medicine that each person must be able to discover something different about themselves and use that to their advantage. the world now is alittle more competitive and some extra show off energy could go extra miles for you, but as different people we can only do things just as differently!! am not sure how you manage to stand out in your rotations but you sure seem to make the best out of it! only wish every students finds some time out of crumming those serious pathophysiologies and managements that you may never have the chance to shine off during ward rounds, to discover somethings that they do 'unintentionally' mostly for the good of the patient and the fellows around, but most of all for your own progress in your career! mind you, the best person you can ever be is yourself!!!

Posted by: munsaka effraim | Oct 7, 2008 8:32:51 AM

I am only a nursing student in a 4 year program, but I really do think that this could even translate to other areas outside of the medical field!

Posted by: Mikka | Oct 8, 2008 7:31:24 PM

I am a physiotherapist who just completed a 3 year program
from KMTC Nairobi and i think this can also apply to other
professional fields as well.

Posted by: patrick | Oct 15, 2008 12:00:49 AM

hi kendra,i am deepti, an img from india .i like reading your posts. but this one is particularly intriguingly true and these are the subtle things thhat we need to bbe aware of, or rather assimilate thhem subconsciously into our psyche to make all the difference .wishing you all the very best.

Posted by: deepti | Oct 24, 2008 6:13:44 AM

Hello. Where facts are few, experts are many.
I am from Japan and now study English, give please true I wrote the following sentence: "Resume examples with professional resume writing tips that show you how to write a resume."

Thank :p Edda.

Posted by: Edda | Jan 15, 2009 8:18:29 AM

i'm fadi finished the 4th year general meds i'm from Syria and now in the USA for vacation 2 months and for training at one of ur hospitals then i have to go back to Yerevan/Armenia where i study my general medicine, i just wanted to tell u that its a great work u've done here , and too awsome thanks a lot hope to read always from you Ms.Kendra Campbell
i just wonder here in USA they all ask me for a CV and a lot of papers to make a rotation, i'm still i student what do they need me to write in my CV, shall i write all the cycles i took in the university or what , coz i have nothing else as an experience to say and really that made me too tired and hopeless, i thought its easy to get a rotation but they r makin it hard

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