how to ace clinical rotations medical student

How to Thrive During Clinical Rotations & Make the Most of Your Time in the Clinic

Are you excited to start your clinical rotations as a medical student but don’t know where to begin? If you know what the clinical rotations has in store for you, you can stop fearing the them and enjoy the learning process instead.
I remember how scary it was for me in the beginning, so I can relate to how you are feeling ?
To help you prepare well for your rotations, I am sharing a few tips I learned through trial and error. 

(Nederlandstalige versie helemaal onderaan + kortingscode Compendium Geneeskunde boeken die je helpen bij je stages!)

1) A Good Preparation is everything! 

It is important to always prepare well for the next day of your rotation. So here is a tip, during your surgery rotation for example, never forget to peek at the surgeries scheduled for the next day so you can study them and come prepared. You are expected to know the surgeries schedules and everything about the patients, including their medical history. However, in other medical specialties it works a bit the same, you should always look at the planning of the next day and try to study subjects that are relevant to the planning. 

Usually, we study different subjects and appear in exams during our early years of medical school, but by the end of it, we forget a lot of things. So, studying for the specialization that you’re rotating in can be interesting because it refreshes certain subjects you learned as a medical student.

Also, studying after a long day in the hospital doesn’t sound so tempting, does it? You are tired, barely able to keep your eyes open, and ready to hit the bed.

An alternative is to get up earlier and study before the day starts. For example, you can be present at the hospital an hour in advance and do your preparation there.

Preparing for your rotation ahead of time not only refreshes your knowledge but also prepares you for ‘pimping’. What is pimping in medical school?
Simply put, pimping is a process through which the most senior medical person – usually the attending physician – asks the medical student questions about relevant medical information. The goal of this ‘pimping’ in medical school is normally learning. However, These questions can be very stressful for a medical student. That’s when all your preparations and revisions come in handy.

However, try not to stress about the questions that they ask you because 

  1. It is normal not to know everything.
  2. The doctors are not necessarily expecting the right answer. The most important thing to them is your thought process. They are just testing to see how you will arrive at a conclusion.
  3. If you don’t know an answer, look up the answer so that you know it well if they would ask you the same question next time.

As a medical student, you also think about all the subjects you had to study in the first years of medicine, that once you have passed, you wouldn’t have to study anymore. However, sometimes you get asked about those ‘basics.’     

So, you must know the basics of for example physiology and this is more important for a rotation such as internal medicine (I am thinking in particular about cardiology). When you are in a surgery rotation, it is especially crucial that you know the anatomical structures of the surgeries the day after because this is frequently asked. Anatomy is one of those subjects that you will often forget throughout your medical career, which is completely normal!
But you have to refresh your knowledge regularly. Of course, you don’t have to leaf through your entire anatomy atlas because this requires too much work. As I said, just revise your anatomy for a specific case/surgery the next day.

2) Overcoming your fear & be assertive

It is sometimes very intimidating as a medical student to suddenly find yourself in the hospital after only a few years of being in books. In addition, you only know a few practical things, which is sometimes overwhelming.

 You must remember that it’s completely normal to not have much practical exposure. So, don’t put too much pressure on yourself and don’t expect too much at the beginning.

One of the mistakes I often made as a medical student was that I was really afraid to try new things for fear of failing and just being really bad at it. And I realized that I was doing it all wrong. In order to learn, you have to take the leap, trust yourself and not let the fear of failure hold you back.        

You just have to be aware that when you do something for the first time, you usually won’t be very good at it right away. Of course, there are exceptions, but the average person can’t do something perfect from the get-go. Even experienced medical professionals didn’t become expert surgeons on their first day or even their first week.

The more you practice something, the better you will get at it. Therefore, be assertive as a medical student and overcome your fear.

Try to see the rotations as an opportunity to learn as much as possible for yourself. Don’t always think about your grades only. You are there to learn and ultimately to become the best doctor possible.

In addition, residents and attendings are extremely busy almost all the time. They have a lot of responsibilities, and sometimes they have to make decisions about life-threatening cases of their patients.

So, remember that you, as a medical student, are not really the priority for them. It may sound a bit harsh, but this is just the truth. As a result, they can sometimes not always give you enough explanation because they are just really busy with other duties.

So, actively ask things yourself to learn. Be proactive, you have to take as much initiative as possible, and in my experience, the residents react positively to that. A big part of your learning progress in the rotations depends on yourself.


I didn’t use AMBOSS at the beginning of my rotations, and it is a real shame because AMBOSS is very useful during your internships.

AMBOSS is a medical learning platform for medical students & doctors. For example, you want to know something about a particular disease. In that case, you can look it up on AMBOSS, and you will get a complete summary of everything you need to know about that particular disease.

Of course, you can also consult other sources such as Uptodate, but I think AMBOSS, in general, is much more straight to the point and is very user-friendly.

For a certain pathology, you will see for example an overview of which additional tests you need to request, treatment, differential diagnoses and so on. 

 I found AMBOSS to be a valuable source of information during my emergency shifts, primarily because you see various pathologies in the emergency room.


4) Choose your Rotations Wisely

If you already know at the start of your internship year that you are interested in specific specializations, then planning your rotations early in these departments is crucial.

The moment to pick a medical specialty where you want to specialize in  will come much faster than you think, especially if you want to specialize in a very competitive field where there are very few places. In such cases, candidates are often expected to make an extra effort in that particular specialization.

The sooner you know what you want to do after medical school, the earlier in your studies you can commit to that medical specialty. In addition, it will maximize your chances of specializing in your choice of medical field.
Also, if you for example want to do dermatology, it might also be interesting to do an anatomical pathology and plastic surgery rotations since those specializations are really intertwined. Therefore, in your further education, you will certainly come into contact with these departments and it is good to learn this extra information. 

But when you want to get into less competitive medical specialties, then it might be a bit different. However, it is still important to choose your rotations wisely so that you can use your time to learn about medical specialties relevant to your further education. I am thinking here for example about wanting to become a GP. You will always find a place for this.

5) Be professional

Professionalism is the key if you want to learn as much as possible during your clinical rotations. So, make sure you always arrive on time or even try to arrive earlier. The perk of coming earlier is that you have time to prepare well for a tiring yet interesting day.

Being late looks bad and should something happen that causes you to be late, just make sure you have some way of reporting it to a resident or attending. Apart from that, dress well, be inclusive and have a professional attitude where you are enthusiastic about making the most of your rotations.

To finish this video… Yes, you learn everything from medical books about your specialization. But, unless you practice it, you won’t be able to keep that information in your mind for long. So, when it is time for you to start your clinical rotations, go prepared. You wouldn’t want to miss this great opportunity where you can learn the most from the practical implementation of your medical knowledge.

 In fact, there will be something new you will learn every day, which can make it more exciting. So, follow the tips I have shared with you so you can have the most memorable yet knowledgeable experience during your clinical rotations ?

Nederlandstalige versie:

Gebruik de kortingscode ‘KIMDETOLLENAERE10’ in de shop van Compendium Geneeskunde om een korting te krijgen op alle boeken!
Het zal je erg helpen bij je stages en in je latere carrière als arts.


Hi there! I am Dr. Kim Detollenaere, aesthetic doctor and owner of 'Doctor Contour' aesthetic guide and clinic. I have been a content creator for several years, next to my busy medical life. Get to know more about me on Instagram, Youtube or check out the 'About me' page on this blog for more info!

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