Dealing with Subjectivity in Clinical Rotation Evaluations

Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner

One of my friends recently got back her evaluation from a rotation she had just completed. These evaluations, paired with the rotation’s shelf exam determine your score on that particular rotation. Therefore, these evaluations can be pretty important, especially if that is the field you plan to pursue. She looked down the column of various grading parameters and found that while she had received a satisfactory grade, it was not what she wanted. She called me the next week, crying into the phone about how she would never be able to fulfill her dreams because of this evaluation. Now, this may seem crazy to those who are not in medicine, but especially with mounting stress and increasing responsibility, the smallest things can tip people off. Meltdowns like hers are definitely not unheard of, and I have come close to having one myself. It’s hard to be a third year medical student, and the subjectivity of these grading systems that can exacerbate that.

Preceptors are expected to teach students the basics at the very least. Ideally, the preceptor would meet the student where they are and make sure they learn a thing or two from that point. Not all of them are like that. Some expect you to come in with all the basic knowledge about that discipline and then agree to take you from there. Others will be more amenable even if you have gaps in your knowledge. The point is, the variation is great and wide. It is especially hard to adjust during the first week of a rotation because everything is new: the preceptor, the staff, the hospital, other students, where to eat, etc. Getting to know your preceptor’s personality both as a physician and as a person can be an added challenge on top of that. Though it shouldn’t be this way, how well you get along with your preceptor can factor into your grade. Sometimes you just jive with the person you have been assigned to; sometimes it doesn’t work that way—and that can be reflected in your evaluation.

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There are a few ways to deal with this. First and foremost do not get discouraged. It’s nearly impossible to get along with every single person you run across, especially in the medical field. It can be especially hard if this happens while on a rotation in the specialty of your choice, but do not take it personally. This person got a brief snapshot of you and your work in just a few short weeks. It might not be completely representative of you or them, and realizing that can make the evaluation easier to digest. After stepping back for a couple days, revisit the comments they made. If they weren’t so clear in their feedback, feel free to reach out to them via phone or email and ask them why they felt the way they did. The preceptor may be receptive to this because it shows them that you were willing to go beyond the fact that you received a less than stellar grade and truly want to learn and improve from your mistakes. Most of all, you will be able to move on satisfied that you did everything you could to grow from that rotation. Putting your best foot forward will go a long way in making sure that no one has any room to say anything negative about your character. Use this as a learning opportunity!

The subjectivity of the entire process of your third and potentially fourth year can be draining, but only if you let it get to you. Don’t let one bad experience set the tone for the entire specialty. Instead, work to let it go. It will no longer matter in 5, 10, 20 years. What will matter is how you learned to deal with it and what you took from it! Keep calm and carry on.