A Day in the Life of a Medical Student on Clinical Rotations

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A Day in the Life of a Medical Student on Clinical Rotations

Entering your third year of medical school comes with a new and exciting phase of medical education: clinical rotations. Gone are the times when heavy textbooks and insurmountable study loads were your biggest worries! At a medical rotation, you inhabit an in-between world where you’re both a medical student and a healthcare professional. Even the most well-adjusted medical students find themselves struggling to find their footing in such a role. 

Here, it helps to remember exactly why you’re doing your medical clerkships in the first place: to gain exposure to the world of medicine outside books, manage patients and diseases in real-time, and start applying all the knowledge you’ve worked so hard to gain. The challenges may be steep, but so are the rewards. Time management is key if you want to reap the benefits of this new and nerve-wracking opportunity while also performing well on exams and evaluations,  USDoctors.co has created this schedule to help you understand what an average day at a medical school rotation might look like, what tasks you will be performing, and how to best use your downtime during this important period!

Not All Clinical Rotations Are Created Equal

A day at a clinical rotation can vary depending on which specialty you’re in service for, the location of the practice or facility, and whether you’re assigned to an outpatient or inpatient care setting. 

One can argue that there’s no ‘typical’ day at a clinical rotation. In core rotations like Internal Medicine and General Surgery, you can expect to have a busier daily schedule and longer hours than most other rotations. Many students also find being on the hospital floor and working at an inpatient rotation harder than doing a rotation in an ambulatory setting. Again, with specialties that you have a personal interest in, the day may go by faster than in an objectively ‘easier’ rotation. 

Every rotation comes with its unique set of challenges, whether they are organizational, interpersonal, educational, or specialty-related. In the end, your schedule will reflect these differences only to a certain degree. Barring that, you can expect to have more or less the same ‘typical’ routine during the entire two years of clinical rotations. With that said, let’s take a closer look at what this will be!

A Typical Day at Clinical Rotations for Medical Students

From your arrival at the hospital to the official sign-out at the end of the workday, your hours will be spent doing a wide range of tasks related to managing patients and dispensing medical care. This can be in the form of assisting seniors and staff, documenting and communicating patient data, following up on patients’ lab results, and so on. In between, you will also be partaking in structured teaching sessions and conferences. Thus, your schedule might look something like this:

6:00 AM – 6:30 AM: Because the world of medicine never sleeps, your shifts at the hospital will also begin early in the morning. You’ll arrive at the facility, dressed and equipped as a doctor should be, and directly resume patient care tasks that fall under your responsibilities. 

6:30 AM – 8:00 AM: In this time, you’ll update yourself on your patients’ records, assess their charts for vitals and lab results, and consult with the night cover team on any clinical status changes. Similarly, you’ll ‘pre-round’ on all the patients assigned under your care by communicating with them about how they’re feeling, taking their vitals, and performing physical exams. After having gathered sufficient data on your patients, you’ll have to document it in a systematic, readily-available manner for presentation during later rounds with the whole team. You may also have to read up on their conditions to come up with suitable suggestions for treatment plans. 

8:00 AM – 8:30 AM: Depending on the medical clerkship’s curriculum, senior residents may hold an early morning teaching session. Usually, this session will entail powering through an interactive, focused discussion on a clinically relevant topic in which you’ll be expected to take an active part.

8:30 AM – 10:30 AM: This part of the morning will usually be reserved for one thing and one thing alone: rounds. These are perhaps the most important and intimidating part of your day. The entire multidisciplinary team involved in patient care, including the attending physician, residents, interns, nursing staff, and medical students, will come together to visit all admitted patients one by one. Together, they’ll take their time assessing every patient’s condition, clinical progress, and treatment or evaluation plans for the day. 

As the student on the team, it’s your responsibility to present your patients’ case to the rest of the team. You will update them on your patients’ medical history, recent clinical status, exam findings, labs, and how to proceed with the management. It’s worth noting that presenting your patients is a skill that comes with time, practice, and guidance. A major part of your clinical performance evaluation will be based on this skill, so the sooner you perfect it, the better. The attending and residents on the team will also actively interrupt you with questions to test your knowledge and clinical acumen, so preparing ahead is necessary to leave a good impression.

10:30 AM – 12:00 PM: Your team of residents, interns, and fellow medical students will ‘run the list’; a process where patient-related tasks that need to be completed for the day are divided. On surgery clinical rotations, you may head into the OR to scrub in and assist in surgeries or deliver pre and post-operative care to surgery patients during this time.

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM: The lunch hour will usually be accompanied by a noon conference or lecture.

1:00 PM – 5:00 PM: After lunch, you’ll finally have some flexibility with your time. You can use it to wrap up leftover clinical duties for the shift, help out other team members with their workload, or make headway with your patient progress notes. On Surgery rotations, you may get a chance to perform minor bedside procedures such as assessing or changing wound dressings and drawing blood for lab work. Once all patient care tasks have been dealt with, some lenient residents may let you leave the premises before the ‘official’ sign-out. Other programs may have a stricter policy, requiring you to stay at the facility until official sign-out. You can use your free time to squeeze in some studying.

5:00 PM: After handing over patient care responsibilities to the night team, you’ll be relieved of your duties at the official sign-out time. On ‘call’ days, you will have to stay until later in the night to assist the night team with handling current patients and new admissions.

Setting Standards

Medical clerkships are a formative experience for every aspiring physician. The lessons you learn here are life-changing, and depend on how willing you are to involve yourself in the hospital environment. Set clear and tangible goals that can be incorporated into your day-to-day routine to ensure that you’re making the most of this experience. Genuinely take ownership of your patients, help out staff and residents, be a proactive member of the hospital team, and carry your own weight. The time to forge your professional identity and work ethic as a physician begins now!

Because all medical clerkships end with formal shelf exams that evaluate what learning you’ve gained there, it’s advisable that you hit the books regularly. The wide-ranging concepts tested on these exams won’t necessarily be covered in the wards. To perform well, you’ll need to maintain a consistent study plan alongside your clinical routine.

Don’t Forget To Take Care of Yourself!

Ultimately, no amount of preparation may be enough to handle the actual pressures encountered during a medical school rotation. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by this new life, and the consequent fatigue and stress can harm your learning potential as well as performance. Take conscious care to prioritize your physical and mental health. Your typical day should also incorporate activities that help you relax and stay attuned to your emotional and mental needs. Set aside time to go for a walk or a run, do some non-medical pleasure reading, maintain good sleep hygiene, and reach out to friends and family regularly for emotional support.

As you move forward in your medical career, your clinical responsibilities will only increase. As such, clinical rotations offer a unique and relatively safe opportunity for experimental and hands-on learning, so make sure to divide your time and energies appropriately by devising a good, stable routine. 

For additional resources on how to ace your medical education journey, browse more articles available on the USDoctors.co blog!


Clinical Rotations For Foreign Medical Students, Nurse Practitioners, Physician Assistants and Graduates.

USDoctors.co specializes in providing invaluable hands-on clinical rotations to both foreign medical students, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and graduates. Our clinical rotations are strictly set up to help you get the US clinical experience and letters of recommendation that will greatly increase your chances of US residency placement.

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