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How to Be a Great Clinical Clerk

How to Be a Great Clinical Clerk

I have written a lot about medical school, but mostly about getting in and some of my experience as a “preclerk” – the primarily classroom based learning I did in my first two years of medical school.

Now that I am in my 4th and final year, I have over a year of clinical experience under my belt. Besides two weeks off for winter break, I have spent the last 12 months straight working in hospitals and clinics, rotating through every single service imaginable. One week I would be suturing lacerations in the emergency room, and the next I could be delivering a baby. I am a firm believer that a medical student’s first clinical year presents the steepest learning curve in all of medical training.

However, I didn’t write much about clerkship for a few reasons.

The first is that it was my busiest year ever, and that meant I always found an excuse not to write: too tired, too busy, too stressed, etc. Fortunately, 4th year is full of elective rotations, and my schedule is much improved. I don’t have any excuse for not writing unless I get lazy. Hopefully that doesn’t happen (look, this is the first time I would have blogged two days in a row in forever – when was the last time that happened?).

The second is that I was always worried about what I would be allowed to write from clerkship. Given that I am seeing patients and coworkers day in and day out, I was scared to write something that would identify another person. It doesn’t help that I write openly as myself – anyone who has come into contact with me on service might think I am writing about them. Now that I have completed my core rotations, I have a bit more freedom to write, but of course I will be safe and cognizant of privacy.

The third is that I just wasn’t experienced enough to write about clerkship. It has taken me the full year to really realize the value of clerkship and what it takes to be a great clerk. Chances are, what you think might make a good clerk probably is far from the truth – I know that was true for myself and my peers (hint: if you think the clerk who studies the most impresses the most, think again). It takes experiencing something as intense as clerkship to really realize what is expected of you and what you should really expect of yourself.

Now that I have this experience, I feel ready to freely share my thoughts on what it means to be a great clinical clerk. For those of you who have recently started or will soon be starting clerkship, I hope there are some gems in this article for you. For those of you still not yet in medical school but hope to one day, I hope this gives you a bit of insight into what being a medical student is like and what attitudes and skill would be useful to adopt in your life going forward.

Disclaimer: Before going forward, I just wanted to say that the following are a collection of ideas of what I think make a great clinical clerk. I’m not saying that I personally do all of these things or do any of them well or that I am even a great clinical clerk myself – I know I have much to learn, and that if I followed my own advice more closely, I would be a much better clerk than I am today.
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Is there a “perfect” medical specialty?

It’s day 3 since I started my 30 posts in 30 days challenge and I’m already behind pace since this is my second post.. oh well, just gotta double up one of the days!

Last night I was having dinner with a fellow medical student and friend of mine from undergad, and one of the concepts that came up in the discussion was the question of whether a “perfect specialty” exists. To clarify, I’m not talking about one particular specialty being better than the others or being particularly “perfect”. Rather, we were asking whether the concept of a “perfect specialty” really exists for every single medical student out there. That is, can I really expect to fall in love with some specialty and find everything I have ever wanted in a career and perhaps life in general?

I think a lot of us come into medicine hoping to find that “perfect” specialty for ourselves – one that will constantly challenge us and make us excited to get up in the morning to go to work. While it is certainly possible for this to exist for some people, I think in reality this is true for extremely few people, and I think the majority of doctors will find some but not complete life satisfaction in their medical practice – and I think that’s okay, and it’s not something to be ashamed of or worried about.

Not all doctors have the same personality, values, and life goals. For some of us, we will find everything we could ever want in life in medicine. For others, who have extremely diverse tastes and interests, we may seek to find other venues to satisfy those interests, and I think it is not only fine, but actually good and healthy to explore those paths outside of medicine.

For me I enjoy program development, entrepreneurship, speaking, mentoring, writing, etc. – many things that a doctor doesn’t explicitly do, and activities that I would like to pursue on the side. Not doing these things would make me less happy and so I hope to pursue them on top of being a doctor, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

I don’t expect my happiness to come purely from medicine and I don’t expect to like all aspects of medicine. As long as you meet your professional obligations I think you should explore your options and engage yourself in activities you find challenging, stimulating, and enjoyable, even if they are outside medicine. Don’t be afraid to keep being yourself and doing what makes you happy!