How to make the most of your rotations

Elita Fernandes, a third-year student with surgical ambitions, shares her tips on making the most of every rotation.

As a third-year student at Lancaster, I'm no stranger to clinical placements - but my year on rotations surprised me.

I was excited. Second year was hard. Coming to medical school as an aspiring surgeon, I wanted to gain insight into what my future as a doctor could look like.

What I learned during rotations

Lancaster has five blocks focusing on general practice, obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G), care of the elderly, paediatrics and psychiatry. This gives students a taste of each area over six weeks to build on our clinical knowledge. I went in feeling confident as I thought I knew what was expected of me, but I wasn't looking forward to some of them.

The beauty of rotations is you can quickly immerse yourself. My fellow students said I drew the long straw with a GP placement in a sleepy village in the Lakes, and there are certainly worse places to start!

While others had busy wards, I spent mornings in consultations taking histories and formulating my own idea of what to do for the plan and management before getting input from the GP supervising me. I loved being able to play a part in a consultation and put my learning into practice. The GP would introduce me as the 'student doctor', which made me feel like I wasn't just another face in a ward round but part of a team. My start in GP was swiftly followed by ward rounds and the familiar rhythm of hospitals.

Reflecting on my final rotation, this year was a steep learning curve that I welcomed. In second year, everything moved at breakneck speed, leaving me feeling bewildered and unmotivated. Spending over a month in each rotation helped me adapt, despite the initial information overload. Now the workload feels useful, giving me a deeper understanding of the specialities rather than just portfolio requirements to tick.

My surgical goal

I knew surgery was my goal. Some of my peers changed their minds, finding new, unexpected paths. I saw a clinical partner light up when they found a rotation where they felt they 'slotted into place.'

My interest in surgery shaped how I engaged during rotations. I became friendly with nurses and the junior doctors, making a point to ask, "Anything surgical I can get stuck in with?" I joined discussions before surgery started, saw challenging wound reviews, learnt how to assess vascular compromise and even talked through complex scans with surgeons. I threw myself into it all. O&G was challenging, testing my resilience, but it was invaluable for surgical experience.

I found surgeons to answer my many questions about suturing to medications used in surgery. I was shy but I knew that if I don't ask, I don't get. It can be embarrassing to get turned away but it's better than wishing you'd asked.

Professionally, getting out of my shell changed me. It helped me adapt in a team and I made my voice heard in busy theatres. Personally, I was able to interact with more surgeons and I saw them as aspirational where I may have been intimidated before. I picked their minds on topics important to me such as managing work-life balance and having resilience to deal with complex cases.

Tips for getting the best out of your rotation

I was lucky that I always had an interest in pursuing a career in surgery, but not everyone knows what they want to do early on. Here's my advice on approaching rotations.

  • Go in with an open mind. Medicine needs you to be comfortable in the uncomfortable, so don't be afraid to sit in that discomfort.
  • Working in your remit is vital. Make sure to work with appropriate supervision to avoid compromising patient safety or comfort. When chasing experiences, remember that learning opportunities involve people at their most vulnerable. Compassion is the most important lesson to learn.
  • Proactivity is at the forefront. Speak to mentors to let them know you want to get involved - it will go far! Keen students are memorable and can be the driving factor to getting key experiences.
  • Reflection is key to navigating rotations. Reflective learning is a professional requirement but also helpful in personal growth. Taking time to actively look back on experiences and how they impacted you will help you as a future doctor and has prevented me ruminating on bad days.

Rotations are what you make of them. I see each day as a privilege, not just a required part of the process - this motivates me to keep going.

This page was correct at publication on 24/06/2024. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

Elita Fernandes

by Elita Fernandes

Elita Fernandes is a third-year medical student at Lancaster University who is passionate about a future career in surgery. She has been involved in local forums promoting women in surgery and has an interest in complex trauma focused surgical intervention.