Med School

What I Learned During Clerkships

3 min read


It’s been a few months since I finished my third year clerkships. It was a rewarding but also punishing year of self-reflection and growth. I’ve reflected on some of the lessons I learned from the past year in the hopes that it’ll help other medical students rock the wards while maintaining their emotional well being! Be sure to also check out my ultimate medical school survival guide for additional resources and advice.

1. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. 
How you are expected to behave in pediatrics is very different from how you are expected to behave in surgery. Take the first day of any given clerkship to orient yourself to your environment and your team. Reset and tackle each clerkship with a different plan.

2. Be honest with yourself.
Know your weaknesses and learn how to overcome them. I’m naturally shy and introverted with strangers. In life, this is fine. On the wards however, this can be a huge handicap. When I only had a few days or even a few hours to make a positive impression, I had to make a conscious effort to go out of my comfort zone to promote myself.

3. Be your own advocate.
I didn’t agree with the grade on my very first clerkship because I didn’t think the numerical score coincided with the written evaluations. I appealed to my clerkship director and eventually got my grade bumped up. If you think something is unfair or if someone is mistreating you, speak up because no one else will.

4. Don’t neglect the shelf.
Even when I was exhausted on the wards (like during OB/GYN night float or all of surgery), I still tried to fit in some reading time. It’s tempting to put off shelf studying but it’s a lot of material and you want to make sure you do well (see study tips here). Plus, you’ll see the material again when you take the Step 2 CK.

5. Learn how to be dismissed.
If you haven’t been dismissed and there is literally nothing to do, just ask your resident/attending politely, “is there anything else I can help you with?” If the answer is no, they’ll generally be understanding and send you home. Mastering this skill will help you avoid hospital burn out!

6. And… do go home when you are dismissed!
You don’t need to be told twice! When I started third year, I was so afraid to go home before a certain time. But, I soon realized that most residents remember what it was like being a medical student and the anxiety of waiting to be dismissed. If they say there’s nothing left to do, it means you should go home and rest/study/enjoy life!

7. Sleep early.
I’m a night owl. But if I had to be up for rounds, I needed to hit the sack fast. I used to sleep around 9 or 10pm during third year. Sleeping/meditation podcasts or piano playlists help a lot!

8. Eat breakfast.
I’ve seen students faint on the wards because they were dehydrated or didn’t eat well. Listen to your body and don’t abuse it.

9. Download medical apps.
You want to have UptoDate, and UWorld at the bare minimum. UptoDate has saved my butt so many times on the wards. Some people also like Epocrates or Micromedex to look up drug references.

10. There’s a difference between working hard and “gunning.”
Showing up early and presenting during morning rounds = working hard. 
Answering questions addressed to other students = gunning. 
See the difference? You have to stand out amongst your peers if you want to do well, but it’s important to not make others look bad in the process. Shine with your work ethic and merit, not by sabotaging other students.

11. Be kind. Be positive.
This goes without saying but no one likes working with a Negative Nancy. Be kind to patients. Be kind to your peers. You’re all in this together.

12. Realize that evaluations are ultimately subjective, so don’t kill yourself trying to please everyone.
Not all personalities get along, and evaluations reflect that. It’s impossible to please everyone. Just remember that your grade does not reflect how good of a doctor you will become. Have faith in yourself, work hard, and learn some good medicine!

2 comments on “What I Learned During Clerkships

  1. Guest Urologist

    13. Stay away from GYN surgeons–they will cut your ureters. Both of them.

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