How to Make the Most of Your Clinical Rotations


The most exciting part of PA school is when you finally get the opportunity to get out of the classroom and start seeing real-life patients. After a clinical rotation or two, you quickly become an expert on the best on-the-go resource apps and which snacks fit neatly into the pockets of your white coat. 


But, clinical rotations are also exhausting. Your clinical year can feel like you are starting a new job every 5-8 weeks, with all of the learning curves that come with them. 


To avoid slipping into "survive" mode, you want to do things that will keep you in "thrive" mode. 


We've covered how to approach your very first rotation previously. Now, here's how you can keep the flame burning to get the most out of each rotation.


1. Be present

Being present is a simple concept, but it cannot be overstated. After all, these six weeks may be your only exposure to surgery, dermatology, ENT, or obgyn cases that you ever have, so you want to get the most out of them. 


That means no phone browsing or obsessing over your last end-unit exam. Be where you are and soak up everything you can about the patient population and how to care for them. 


You'll learn more in a month of a clinical rotation than you could in a year on the same topic in the classroom. Take advantage of that training time; it won't come again. 


2. Set goals

Some preceptors are better than others. Some will be engaged in teaching and have mapped out training plan from day one. Some will forget you were coming. 


PA School Clinical Rotation Tips & StrategieslBe a Physician Assistant

But regardless of the quality of your preceptor, you can get more out of the experience by setting goals alongside them. Once a week, discuss your goals for the coming days. 


Do you want to observe a procedure in week one so you can perform it by week three? Do you want to see new patients on your own? 


You will be at a different level of competence by your sixth rotation compared to your first. Determine what will help you grow as a clinician and ask for it. 


You should be advancing each week of your clinical experience. Ensure that you are by setting weekly goals. 


3. Find two cases to follow

One of the most elusive experiences during clinical rotations is patient continuity. Continuity may be a little easier to get in a surgery or in-patient rotation. However, in most rotations, you'll see a patient once or maybe twice. 


But if you're only seeing a slice of the patient's case, you're missing out on the full spectrum involved in their care. 


At the beginning of your rotation, ask your preceptor if there is a case or two that they could pick out for you to follow. They will have a good sense if it will be a patient that you could have the opportunity to see again during that rotation. Or, they could pick out a case that you could follow from a distance, like a patient you see in the ER who is later admitted to the hospital. 


By following a couple of cases in each rotation, you will learn much more about the ongoing management of patients that will be useful to you in your future practice. 


4. Ask for feedback along the way

Your PA program will be asking your preceptor for feedback on your performance, and you should too. 


Asking about how you are doing and what types of cases you should focus on next will help your preceptor identify goals for you as well as clinical opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked. 


If you ask for feedback that isn't prompted by your program, you'll also be in the slim minority of PA students that do. You'll seem more engaged, which is extremely beneficial to you when your school comes a-knockin' for official feedback from your preceptor. 


5. Save your preceptor's contact info

As you near graduation and start your job hunt, you may be able to use your preceptor as a resource. Or a connection for a job opening. Or a reference for credentialing in a new position. 


Hang on to their information now; you'll need it for something in the near future.


Clinical rotations are a tremendous opportunity to be exposed to aspects of medicine that you'll never see again. They lay the foundation for your future practice. And using these simple tweaks will help you get the most out of your clinical year in PA school. 


As a PA student preceptor for many years now, I know this stuff works. I also know that it gets you in the good graces of those training you, which is a beneficial place to be when it's time for your job hunt.