How to Survive the First Day of a Clinical Rotation

This is the 1st in a series of guest posts from  Look out for more posts from Survivor DO in the future, enjoy!


Anyone that knows me agrees that I am typically an eternal optimist. However, over the last several days I have noticed myself being a grump. I was less talkative, an ass to nurses (don’t do this!) and generally not all that enjoyable to be around. In short, I was in a funk. I was having the early rotation blues.

As medical students and residents we switch rotations every 4-6 weeks. Medical students and interns often change between two completely different specialties overnight. Residents typically switch between different flavors of the same specialty (i.e. vascular versus trauma surgery). I find this to be one of the most frustrating things about our training. Frankly, it sucks. To make this a grade or two lower on the suck-o-meter and help you survive the first day of a clinical rotation I have included a few tips below.

Ask Ahead

Chances are you know someone who has already done the rotation you are about to start. This is your absolutely best source of information*! No one can give you more up to date, reliable information than your colleagues can. Try to get the low down on the rotation a week or so before you start that way you can brush up on pertinent reading or at least know where the hell to show up the first day!

Read the Syllabus

I know this is about the nerdiest thing someone could do but trust me it works. There is a syllabus for a reason. You will be surprised how much information it will contain regarding what resources to use, what is expected of you and, most importantly, how you will be graded. It is always a bit painful to me when someone asks a question that is clearly outlined in the syllabus and I am sure it is painful to the attending as well. It is more than worth your time to at least give the thing a glance and it may even save you from looking like an ass!

Ask For Guidance

In theory it is the resident’s/attending’s job to give you a primer on the rotation. In the real world this frequently does not happen. When in doubt ask for some feedback.

What is expected of me in terms of writing notes?

Is this how I should be doing this?

Where the hell is the bathroom?

No one is going to get mad at you for asking a few questions to try and orientate yourself. If they do, they are an asshole and you should forget about ‘em anyway. Tell them Survivor D.O. said so.  Just keep the questions pertinent and to a minimum.

Work Your Ass Off

Remember, first impressions are lasting impressions. You will be forgiven for not knowing where to go or the answer to some random pimp question. You will NOT be forgiven for being lazy. Even if they don’t point it out, everyone notices who is working hard and who is not. Do not let yourself fall into the later category**.

As corny as some of these tips may sound, they work. I am now three days into my most current rotation and am just starting to feel like I am back at full swing. Notes get done quicker, I am more prepared to present patients to attendings and, most importantly, that glazed-over look in my eyes is from sleep deprivation rather than bewilderment.

The above are my top tips for surviving the first day of a clinical rotation. What are yours?

*This is true for you entire medical education. Your classmates are the only one’s that have just been through the same shit you are going through. Use each other as resources!

**This is really what all of medical training boils down to. Work hard and you will see results. It really is as easy as that.