50 Things I Learned to Succeed on Rotations

Originally posted January 2017

I think I’ve finally been a third year long enough to write a post on how to succeed during rotations without having to be a grand showman and intellectual prodigy. I’ve certainly made my fair share of mistakes and straight up screw ups, I’ve also had a lot more successes than I expected.

Hopefully, what I write is useful to those starting or already on rotations (though I’m sure many of you are totally killing it already) and remember these are based on my experiences and of what I’ve learned from people I know so your experiences may be different. This isn’t a ‘how to’ guide, more a quick hit of helpful notes to take into consideration.

I also feel like maybe 50 wasn’t enough to actually illustrate what rotations are like, so if anyone wants to add more to this please do.

Tried and True

  • Show up the first day, bright eyed and bushy tailed no matter how hard the last rotation was.
  • Always try to be there early, before the doctor, even if it’s just a little bit.
  • Read, read, read.
  • If you’ve got a question, ask a question.
  • If you don’t have a question, find a question.
  • Always bring your stethoscope the first day.
  • Then keep it in proximity regardless of rotation. Steths always find a way.
  • Always be stocked up with pens you aren’t worried about losing (or getting stolen).
  • It’s a good idea to be cautiously respectful and formal, even if it seems a tad overkill.
  • You’ll change your mind about what you want to be a few times. You might end up back where you started or on the other end of the spectrum. It’s all good.
  • Take initiative to learn! Ask to try or do things! Show you want to learn.
  • Nothing looks better than confidence, even if you need to fake it.

Clinic and Hospital

  • Credentialing and orientation is a general pain in the butt, but try to pay attention. A lot of it is actually pretty important.
  • If you get the chance, wander the hospital. Get a good feel for it and try to get oriented.
  • If you’re in a clinic, learn as many names of as many daily staff as soon as possible.
  • EMRs are going to suck, especially when you first start using them.
  • Usually, you can’t do anything on EMRs as a student except look, but in the event you can be careful with it. Don’t go clicking things all willy-nilly when you have that much power.
  • Don’t forget your ID, or you’ll get stuck in limbo of waiting for doors to open.
  • Keep a hand sanitizer in your pocket. Some places aren’t so good about it.
  • Locate a place in the hospital which you can cry in peace. In clinic, outside around the corner is generally a safe bet for a good cry.
  • The medical profession tend to a superstitious bunch, so don’t say the Q word even when it is, hope you don’t have ER on Full Moon, and hope you’re not a black cloud.
  • Be willing to help any staff. Just because it’s not the physician doesn’t mean they can’t teach you!
  • Patients are usually receptive to your care and learning, but always err on the side of caution. Remember, do no harm.
  • BE NICE TO THE NURSES. Be nice to the residents! Be nice to the front staff! Just be nice to everyone!

A Little Extra

  • First impressions matter. Make the extra effort to look very put together the first few days.
  • Last impressions are just as important. You might be tired, but that little bit extra goes a long way.
  • Know just a touch about current events. It’s good conversation for patients and medical anyone, since they get to exist in the real world.
  • So remember that medical staff are people too! You can talk to most like you would anyone else, but always remember to stay appropriate.
  • If you’re struggling with the deciding a specialty, ask why the people on that rotation chose that one!
  • Learn when to ask questions. There are appropriate times which vary by preceptor and residents. (I’m not a fan of asking Qs in front of patients just so they don’t get freaked out.)
  • Pick your battles. Someone, somewhere is going to say something you can’t believe. There are times to speak up which is incredibly important, but sometimes you just need to let it go.
  • Use your resources! Use hospital libraries, online sources, and people from your class and above. The latter is especially good to learn quirks about preceptors.

Sure fire Don’ts

  • Sometimes you’ll be introduced as Dr. ___ instead of student doctor which is alright, but don’t run with it. You’re still a student.
  • If you aren’t 100% sure on instructions, don’t wing it. Patient safety is more important than you not feeling like an idiot.
  • It doesn’t matter how buddy-buddy you get with your preceptor. The physicians are your bosses. Residents are your superiors. So treat them as such.
  • Don’t scrub in without knowing the way the hospital, surgeon, and OR nurses want it done. That’s an easy way to get in trouble and be limited in the OR.
  • Don’t say no to requests. If you’re unsure or uncomfortable doing something, say so! But don’t turn down doing a pap smear because you don’t feel like doing it.
  • Try not to get too into politics, even if you agree with the doctor’s opinions. Just save yourself the frustration.
  • Don’t mess with your phone too often. And please, please, don’t take selfies in front of staff?!?
  • Don’t be afraid of your personality! Keep it professional, but stay true to you.

Odds and Ends

  • Keep up with your hobbies to help keep your sanity.
  • Even comfortable shoes need to be broken in.
  • Rotations can be a lot of walking and sometimes none at all. If it’s a non-mover, try to get some steps in.
  • Keep up with friends/classmates. 3rd year can get a little lonely if you’re not on rotation with anyone you know or anyone at all.
  • You can’t please everyone. And evaluations are subjective as hell. Just do your best.
  • You’ll for sure know which rotations you never want, and you’ll get closer to what you do. It could take longer than you hoped, but you’ll get there.
  • There will be a moment where you feel right where you belong. You don’t forget it.
  • You don’t need to love everything and you don’t need to fake or act like you do, but never disrespect another specialty.
  • This may be the first and last time you get to do certain things in medicine.
  • Appreciate all of it.

I hope these tips help save a few souls in the real hospitals and clinics! Good luck!

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