How you can make a difference as a medical student on rotations

We play a small but mighty role in the lives of our patients!

It can be pretty hard sometimes to find your place as a member of the “team” while you’re on your rotations. Speaking from experience, it’s hard to feel like I’m making much of a difference. After feeling good about the patient encounter and presenting everything to the attending (including the correct diagnosis for the patient), they come in and ask all the same questions and do all the same physical exam! Of course I understand why, but I can’t help but feel a little undermined at times. If you’re in a big hospital on a team with interns and residents then you might feel even more useless, because the students in training do all of the real work. I remember feeling lost in the shadows my time on a hospitalist team. Technically I was following my own patients and would present on them, but after rounds I was pretty out of the loop, unless I forced myself into it (and I didn’t want to be that girl). So it can be pretty frustrating. But rest assured, there are ways that you can impact your patients unlike any other person, as well as make a huge difference for your care team.

We’re eager and fresh in this new environment. We haven’t been jaded by the system and we only want to do the best by our patients. Our hearts tug when we hear bad news; we give people the benefit of the doubt; we believe it when they say they’re taking their medicine. This is such a meaningful thing that patients actually notice! There’s a difference in the way a medical student talks to them versus an attending. We show them the compassion, care, and empathy that they truly need and sometimes don’t get. There are times we can do more for them than all of the medications and tests that the residents are ordering. We have the time to sit with them and get to know them more personally. This especially goes if you don’t have to write notes after your patient encounter. More practically, there are many things you can do to be a rockstar team member: print rounding reports, gather new data on patients, do extra research on topics you or the residents may be pimped on, etc.

I’ll always remember on my OB/GYN rotation, there was a patient whose child had to be transported to another hospital while she had to stay to recover. It was so hard for her to be separated from her child. I came in during pre-rounds and was a soundboard for her to express her feelings. I told her that she was going to be a wonderful mom and that the time would soon come for her to be reunited with her child. I stopped in again later in the day, and as she was being discharged, she thanked me so much for being her rock as she waited for the go-ahead to leave the hospital. And she gave me the biggest hug. She said people just came in and out of her room all day and no one cared what she was going through. In that moment I felt like I did more for her than any of the nurses or even my attending–who really just signed her discharge papers.

So just remember that even though you might not have access to the computer record to look up patient info, or you might be the third person to take the same patient history, you really can make all the difference in a patient’s life. Our worth as medical students is unfortunately defined by how good our oral presentations and differential diagnoses are. But our worth as physicians is really in the connections we make with patients and in the rapport we build with them. That’s what makes all the difference. While learning to be good clinicians, we are also learning to be good doctors.

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