As a third-year medical student at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, I entered my clerkships thinking I would do whatever it took to do well on every clinical rotation. While I continue to pursue this, I have developed some strategies for success in order to maintain my sanity and stamina throughout third year and beyond.
1. Effort > Knowledge:
Gone are the times when knowledge was your most central asset. It is important to know the pathophysiology surrounding the disease process you are managing, but it is imperative to demonstrate your willingness to learn. While showing up with knowledge is appreciated by residents/attendings, actively pursuing additional knowledge based on concepts you are witnessing will set you apart from your peers. Print out UpToDate articles or research papers that discuss a concept that was touched on the day prior – and share what you learned with your resident/attending! Putting in the extra work and receiving recognition for doing so will serve you twofold.
2. Humility & Confidence:
Regardless of the clinical scenario, you are a student acquiring advice from every member of the healthcare team as long as you are willing to learn. Being humble enough to ask for help from nurses or medical assistants will improve your knowledge base, as well as increase your understanding of components of patient care you may not witness in the future as an attending.
On the other hand, thoughtful confidence will also serve you. I often witnessed my peers struggle to give oral presentations and fumble through diagnoses and differentials while frustrated attendings waited for a drawn-out presentation to be over. Be confident about the information you know, acknowledge gaps in your knowledge, and most attendings will be happy to discuss the topic afterwards. In my experience, a well- informed student presenting fewer patients fares better than an overeager student who carries more but cannot present them well.
Although effort is paramount to success during third year, you must recognize the juxtaposition of your investment in each rotation and your sanity. It is possible to commit to >80 hours/week seeking recognition, but the resulting exhaustion will set you up for failure in your subsequent rotations. This year is about integration into the specialty. Try to find components you enjoy about each of them (the people, physiology, etc.), and delve into that aspect as much as possible, while limiting your time investment and striving for work-life balance. Rotations can be isolating, so rely on your support system at home/school to get you through the disappointing days.
Regardless of the inevitable whirlwind of emotions that come with clinical rotations, you finally get to observe and experience just about everything about being a physician. No longer is the breadth of your knowledge of utmost importance; now your social skills, effort, and genuine interest in the specialty and physiology become the factors that will set you apart. My experience is just one perspective, so create your own plan and solicit advice from your peers and mentors!