Clinical Year Truths – Part I

The clinical year of pa school may not be as smooth sailing as students are led to believe. Read to find out more

There’s this story floating around that the clinical year is smooth sailing. 🤔 hmmm I didn’t find that to be true—don’t shoot the messenger! Here’s what I mean

Clinical Year Truths #1: The ever-changing schedule 

The didactic year is set…for the most part anyway. There are frequent changes to the schedule, but generally speaking, students can expect to be in class Monday through Friday from 8 am – 5 pm. 

But the clinical year… Girl! There is no telling what the schedule will be until arriving at that rotation.

Snapshot of my clinical year schedule

These varying schedules can create childcare challenges. Just another reason why a solid support system is crucial!. OB/GYN and Rotations involving the operating room are typically the longest days -You just never know how a procedure will go or when a baby will be born. Possibly the emergency room as well -typically 12hr shifts. There are preceptors that may require students to be on call, work weekends, report early for morning rounds at the hospital, or stay late for charting; that adds more uncertainty to the schedule.

I was usually able to work out a reasonable schedule by explaining to preceptors that I was a mom with an hour-long commute. 

But I also understood that there were no guarantees of them being “understanding,” nor could my program faculty make them adjust the schedule to accommodate my needs. So as my general rule of thumb, I expected the best, going in with a positive attitude BUT prepared for the worst. Meaning there was a backup plan in place if things didn’t work out.

Clinical Year Truths #2: Personalities & office politics

In the didactic year, I saw the same group of people and teachers daily. I knew what to expect, how to navigate and finesse situations. But in the clinical year, every six weeks meant a new environment, with new office staff, new patient populations, and a new preceptor. All with different personalities. This can be stressful, especially for anyone who is not a “people’s person” 😒. Some rotations I made a stellar impression, others I counted down the days until it was over. Nevertheless, I carried out my duties in a professional manner, remembering that graduation 👩🏾‍🎓 was the goal.

Office politics, this is important to know for work as well. Every rotation has an unspoken way of doing things. Just go with it. The goal as a student is to learn as much as possible in order to become competent providers and of course graduate. Not to fight for the people and overturn the dictatorship or whatever is going on in that office/clinic/hospital. In other words, mind ya business and stay focused. If you are being asked to do the ridiculous like housekeeping, take weeks off at a time, or being used as an MA; speak to the preceptor then the program. Always protect yourself and get the most out of the overpriced education.

Clinical Year Truths #3: Creating your own schedule 

During the clinical year, there are still assignments, exams and a masters thesis to write 😖 Ugh gross I know but hear me out. 

All we were given was a rubric, syllabus and due dates. The rest was up to me. 

Those neatly color-coded didactic year schedules with timelines and reminders, GONE! It was now up to me to create a schedule for *EOR exam study, assignment completion, ^PANCE prep, job interviews, review&preparation for rotation pimping, and personal life stuff like appointments, exercise, the kids’ extracurricular activities, school pick up and drop off times, etc. Read Finding Balance in the Clinical Year for more on how I managed this schedule.

It was also up to me to create my own study material. The clinical year did not come with PowerPoint presentations. Just a combo of what was learned in didactic and hands-on experience from rotations. 

BTW: Be sure to check the university library for PANCE prep materials, practice tests, study resources and question banks. These are already paid for aka:included in tuition so use them. I found them to be helpful for EOR exam review. Better to be over-prepared than underprepared. Checkout our top 10 must haves for pa school article for pocket guides and study materials (Checkout this must have for general surgery) to help on rotations.

Hope that helps, in part II, I’ll cover how to make the most out of the clinical rotations.

  • *End of Rotation
  • ^ Physician Assistant National Certification Exam
  • ‘ Pimping is when a preceptor randomly quizzes a student. Common in the OR. Some even do it in front of patients. Be easy and remember you are a student; this is your time to learn, so don’t beat yourself up too much if you get any OR ALL wrong. 

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