Author: Sheila Bigelow, OMS IV
As a fourth year medical student, rounding the last base towards Match day, I have been asked by underclassmen about what to do during their clinical years of medical school. My last year of medical school is quickly coming to a close and so far my third and fourth years have been very rewarding. I am glad for the bits of wisdom I received from my upperclassmen. However, there are some things I wish I would have known. When you start to think about and plan your clinical years, here are some helpful tidbits that I am glad others shared with me and others I wish I would have been told.
First, go into every rotation with an attitude that you have something to gain from it. There will be rotations that you may feel don’t apply to your future career. For example, I am sure that some budding pediatricians may not be so excited about a required geriatrics rotation. However, this is probably the worst mistake you can make on any rotation. First, every clinical rotation has at least a few points that can be pulled out for use in your future career, no matter what path you picture your career taking. Perhaps you’ll interact with a team member in such a way that you’ll learn invaluable interpersonal skills. Secondly, attendings, residents, and interns definitely know when you don’t want to be there. You’ll get even less out of the rotation if they feel like you don’t want to be there with every bone in your body. If you go into a rotation with an attitude that you may never get to have this particular experience again and that you should get everything you can out of it, I would be willing to bet that not only will you learn more and be better prepared for your future, but you will probably end up getting a better evaluation as well.
Start your third year with an open mind. Many people start medical school thinking they know exactly what specialty they want pursue. Sometimes, it ends up being the right career for them. For others, they experience a rotation that they thought they would hate and end up loving it. Or they have a rotation in their chosen field and decide they hate it. Next follows a life crisis because what you were so sure of one month ago has now suddenly changed. Don’t panic! This happens to many people and as you go through your third year (and yes, sometimes even your fourth year) you may change your mind multiple times. This is why it is important to keep your mind open and pay attention to what your gut tells you. Think about why you like or dislike a specialty. Was it because of a single resident or particular attending that you didn’t get along with? Probably not a great reason to write off an entire specialty based on a few bad apples. Did you wake up every morning excited to go to work, to see your patients, and to learn more about that type of medicine? Then that might be a field to seriously consider!
Finally, plan your fourth year very, very carefully. November, December, and January (sometimes even October) are key interview months. Keep in mind that this can vary based on specialty so discuss this with people within your field of choice to find out the busy interview times. Depending on your geographical range of residency programs that you are applying to, you may be missing significant rotation time for traveling and interviewing. If possible, consider using your vacation time during this period to give yourself more flexibility regarding traveling. It is much nicer being able to arrive in the city of your interview early the night before and have the chance to attend the interview dinner than arrive late at night and have to rush into bed. If you’re unable to use vacation time, or would prefer not to, then consider scheduling electives that may have more flexible hours. Also, plan electives at institutions where you think you may be interested in pursuing a residency. One interview day is sometimes not enough to give you a solid feel for a program and doing a rotation there will not only let you know how the program really is from day to day, but also let the program know what kind of worker you are.
Clinical rotations during medical school are exciting and challenging times. You will learn many more lessons and skills than I can list here in this article, but hopefully this article will serve as a good start for your experience. The most important piece of advice I can pass on to you about your third and fourth years of medical school are to breathe, be yourself, and enjoy every day! Before you know it, you’ll be looking back on your clinical rotations and looking forward to starting your internship.
Sheila M. Bigelow is a 4th year medical student at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She is currently applying for a Pediatrics residency. If you have any questions or comments, she may be reached at