Menu Icon Search
Close Search

4 Reasons First-Year Medical Students Should Reflect on Their Initial Clinical Experiences

Created April 12, 2017 by Cassie Kosarek

Many medical schools are now enhancing their preclinical curriculum (which is typically taught in the first two years of the program) with mandatory and optional clinical opportunities. Though intensive clinical exposure is typically reserved for third- and fourth-year rotations and sub-internships, students whose early curriculum provides clinical experiences should reflect on the impact of these opportunities.

If you are in a medical school with early clinical exposure, consider evaluating these experiences for the following reasons:

1. You can use your early experiences to inform the structure of your third and fourth years

Whether through mandatory or optional opportunities, many medical schools expose their students to several areas of practice within the first two years of their programs. Take time in each of these clinical settings to define what you like and do not like about that particular type of medicine. Did you experience primary care in an internist’s office? If so, did you enjoy the pace of the work and the breadth of cases that were involved? Did you spend time in an emergency department thereafter? Did you find the intensity of that work more engaging? Write brief notes after every clinical experience you complete, and be sure to record the components that you found most intriguing, as well as the components that did not align with your personality. While many third- and fourth-year rotations are mandatory, there is still room for elective rotations that are aimed at giving students an opportunity to explore those areas of medicine into which they might consider matching for residency. Using the perspective gained from early clinical experiences may help mold your personal and professional outlook on medicine, and may thus allow you to make choices that are better aligned with your goals.

2. You can develop the skills and boundaries necessary to effectively work with patients by reflecting on your strengths and weaknesses in your initial clinical encounters

Negotiating the medical care of your patients extends well beyond addressing their physical complaints. In addition to developing your diagnostic and treatment skills, you must also develop the professional interpersonal skills that allow people to feel they were treated appropriately. As you meet your first patients, take note of how you handle any emotional difficulties. Do you respond empathetically to tears? Are you calm in the face of anger? After patient encounters, reflect upon how your response to their concerns either improved or worsened their care, and be prepared to make adjustments as necessary in your future clinical experiences.

3. You can begin to define—in broad strokes—what aspects of medicine you would like to see included in your future specialty

You may not be able to precisely identify what you wish to do for the rest of your career in the first two years of medical school. However, you can pay attention to what aspects of medicine you consider necessary to your career trajectory. Do you find that you enjoy long-term patient care? Inpatient care? Outpatient care? Do you like doing procedures? In addition to noting your interest in specific specialties, pay careful attention to what kinds of care you one day hope to provide.

4. You can start to learn how to personally cope with the rewarding, yet strenuous, task of taking care of sick patients

Providing medical care is an incredible privilege, but it can also be emotionally taxing for providers. It is crucial to your patient care that you maintain your own physical and mental wellness, and reflecting upon your initial clinical experiences can help you build the foundation you will need to cope with the longer hours of your clinical years and residency. Be sure to consider how you feel after your clinical encounters. Are you frustrated? Are you tired or burned out? Think about ways to cope with any negative emotions that may be cropping up as you care for patients, and look to mentors to help you learn to balance your own wellness with the demands of patient care.

Cassie Kosarek is a professional tutor with Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement. She earned her Bachelor of Arts from Bryn Mawr College and is a member of the Class of 2020 at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College.

// Share //

// Recent Articles //

  • How Med Student Parents Make It Happen

  • Posted February 9, 2018 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • Can you be a parent while you’re in medical school? Listener Courtney, a 26-year-old mother of three wants to know if her med school dream is even possible.  Obviously this is a two-part question since there are both moms and dads to consider, so we’ll have a mom on a future show to help.  But first,...VIEW >
  • What infection preceded this rash?

  • Posted February 9, 2018 by Figure 1
  • An 8-year-old boy is brought to the pediatrician by his mother over concerns of a new-onset rash. He is otherwise healthy, though his mother mentions that he was unwell two weeks prior to the rash appearing. On examination, numerous small salmon-pink scaly papules are seen on his trunk and extremities. Which of the following infections...VIEW >
  • Location, Location, Location! Should You Apply In-State or Out-of-State? 

  • Posted February 8, 2018 by AAMC Staff
  • The AAMC Premed Team recently conducted a few twitter polls which asked premeds to share what you are looking for in a medical school. We received hundreds of responses, and while a school’s mission statement and scholarship opportunities were both important influences, the results pointed to one factor above all others: location! Related...VIEW >
  • Q&A with Benjamin Stobbe, Executive Director of Clinical Simulation

  • Posted February 7, 2018 by Jacob Adney
  • Ask any doctor, in any specialty and of any age, and they will remember their training in medical school. It is full of learning, new experiences, new friends, and major strides in both personal and professional development. With so many changes, dozens of obstacles in each student’s life must be confronted and overcome. Fortunately, medical...VIEW >
women in surgery
  • “We Don’t Carry Gloves in Your Size”

  • Posted February 5, 2018 by Kara Hessel
  • Reasons women should not pursue surgery discredited Before I even started medical school, I knew I wanted to be a surgeon. However—before I even started medical school—I had multiple people tell me all the reasons why I should not become a surgeon. Their lists were exhaustive: long hours, lack of social life, lack of family...VIEW >
  • Tales from the Clinic: from Theory to Practice

  • Posted February 2, 2018 by The Short Coat Podcast
  • There is nothing to fear but fear itself. Kylie Miller and Issac Schwantes take a break from their fairly new clinical duties to let Gabe Conley and Erik Kneller know how it’s going working with actual patients. What unexpected things have they learned? Were their professors really correct when the said that arcane bit of information would...VIEW >

// Forums //