How to Get Honors

Honors is a mysterious designation that means something different to each institution and each evaluator. There is no single, fail-proof way to guarantee one gets clinical honors. It is always going to come down to a certain level of subjectivity. But there are a number of elements every medical student can employ to maximize his or her chances of getting honors without jeopardizing core learning objectives. I feel particularly qualified to write this post. I started off without honors on my first three rotations. Halfway through my third year everything clicked for me. I made some specific changes and finished out the year with honors on my next four rotations. Here I will discuss some of these tangible elements that can take you to the next level.

Advocate for Your Patients

The patient always comes first. Simple as that. You are never wrong to advocate and do right by the patient. This will remain true for the entirety of your career. If you have a concern for your patient’s well-being at any point, speak up. Colleagues and patients will take note of your genuine care, and you will be a better physician for it.

Work Ethic

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The medical field is full of driven individuals, and you need to prove you fit in with the hardest working of them all. Show up early; never leave early. Be reliable and follow through with everything tasked to you. Read up on your patients. Not just their history and clinical course, but their diagnostic workup, disease process, and treatment options. Make sure to practice your oral presentations for rounds. If it’s a surgical rotation, know general OR etiquette, basic steps of each procedure, relevant anatomy, and common complications. Ask thoughtful questions. Develop thorough differentials based on clinical reasoning. Working hard goes beyond building knowledge. It also applies to building the patient-physician relationship. You have the most time to spare of the medical team. Use this time to get to know your patients. Your patients will appreciate it, your team will notice, and you will grow as a physician.

Volunteer for Tasks

By shouldering certain tasks, you can play an imperative role in team function. Some common examples include taking out central lines and drains; obtaining and investigating records from an outside hospital; calling primary care offices for additional patient info; updating families via telephone; updating hospital course summaries; looking up evidence-based answers for questions posed on rounds; and going back to patient rooms to expand on histories. The point is to identify helpful tasks that you can perform (without interfering with your learning), and then reliably follow through.

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Don’t Pass Up Any Opportunities 

If a resident asks if you want to see a new consult or admission with them, always say yes, with enthusiasm. Watch and participate in procedures for your patients when you are able to. If there’s a surgery or admission added on late, stay to help and learn. Take on the difficult patients who offer great learning opportunities. Don’t be afraid to take on extra patients if you can handle it. If ever offered more responsibility, accept with eagerness. You won’t grow as a physician if you pass up on learning opportunities.

Ask for Feedback and Incorporate Changes

I won’t say much on this topic as we have an entire article dedicated to it. Ask for feedback regularly and incorporate changes that are suggested.

Have a Positive Attitude

This is the simplest part. A negative or uninterested medical student is easily forgotten and will never impress. Medical school is difficult, stressful, and draining, but you have to fight through this and let your bright side shine when you are at work. Focusing on patient relationships is a great way to remind yourself of why medicine is an amazing privilege. Be positive, happy, energetic, and eager. Your presence will be noticed, team morale will be boosted, patients will be uplifted, work will be more fun, and your evaluators will associate you with positivity.

In summary, honors in the clinical setting is a highly variable status. However, every medical student can maximize his or her chances by having a positive attitude and stellar work ethic while prioritizing patient care, learning, and teamwork. These same elements will continue to help in every stage of your medical training.


Back to more resources for excelling on your clerkship rotations.

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