Five Tips to Success on Your Surgery Clerkship

As medical students across the country transition back to in-person clinical rotations, I thought it appropriate to share five tips on how to get the most out of your surgery clerkship and perform well. Here we go:

1.     BE ENTHUSIASTIC: For most medical students, this is your first time being a part of a surgical team—scrubbing into surgeries, caring for post-operative patients, seeing patients in clinic, attending morning conferences, and seeing surgical consults. All of these are fantastic learning opportunities that can be maximized with a go-getter attitude. Embracing the challenges of the rotation will not only make for a memorable experience but will facilitate you helping the team and taking part in patient care.  This is a fantastic opportunity, make the most of it!

2.     BE PRESENT: The adage, ‘Be the first one in, last one to leave’ was an especially helpful mindset for the surgery clerkship. By being present you will find more opportunities to help the team and in turn, you will learn more. In addition to a positive attitude, spending more time in the hospital will give you a realistic picture of the hard work that goes on inside and outside of the OR in the life of a surgeon and surgical resident.

Photo by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash

3.     IDENTIFY EXPECTATIONS: Identify the expectations of those who are evaluating you.  While theshared goal of the team is to give the best care for the patients, it may not always be clear what your role is. Have a discussion with the resident(s) on your team about expectations for the rotation and how you can best help the team.  Often times your role can be as simple as carrying supplies for dressing changes, checking drain outputs, or preparing the list for morning report. If team members don’t address their expectations with you, be sure to ask.  Residents are incredibly busy and may forget to set expectations with you given their clinical responsibilities.  At an appropriate time, ask them and have that conversation.  Understanding the goals that others have for you on the rotation will allow you to achieve them and perform well.

4.     PREPARE: As a medical student you are not expected to know everything about surgery. However, as a member of the team you are expected to prepare for surgeries, clinic, and conference. Do this by reading about the patients, understanding relevant anatomy for surgeries, and understanding indications for the procedure being performed. Ask the residents the day before, “What cases do we have tomorrow? Is there anything you recommend I read to prepare?”  The preparation you put in will allow you get the most out of your experiences and will show a level of commitment that your team will respect.

5.     BE KIND: This is the most important rule. Treat every person with kindness and respect. As a medical student you will interact with attending surgeons, residents, nurses, technicians, maintenance staff, patients, patient families, and many more people.  Every person you interact with is important and deserves your respect. Offer to help others in any way you can; they are all your teammates.

Keep in mind that clerkships are not only a time of learning, but also of service. Have fun on your clerkships and reach out to us with questions or comments.

What other helpful tips do you have for excelling on your surgery clerkship?

Back to more clerkship advice.

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