to succeeding in third year of medical school

So, you’re about to start clinical rotations and you are full of questions and emotions- excitement, nervousness, and maybe a touch of imposter syndrome. Well, we are here to tell you do not worry, this is about to be the best year of medical school yet. You have done all the tedious basic sciences studying and you have taken and passed the USMLE Step 1 and now you get to start doing what you have been waiting for all along: learning how to take care of patients. And it is really the best!

We wanted to address the most commonly asked questions we get about third year in this post. If your question isn’t answered, message us anytime on our Instagram page!

What to expect:

Expect to be thrown into rotations without feeling fully prepared, but also expect to acclimate quickly. Every time a new rotation starts, you’ll have new rotation nerves that settle down in just a few days. Expectations are different for all rotations, but its best to go in over prepared! Most rotations consist of seeing patients and presenting them on rounds, whether it’s in-patient or outpatient! This is mostly the case on all rotations but varies from site to site.

There is no way to fully prepare for how your attending will prefer you present patients, this is something you’ll get to know as you get used to your rotation and attending. But you can always go into your patient interviews with the intention of writing a detailed H&P presentation for a new patient or a thorough SOAP note for a patient who you have rounded on before.

Before you start your rotations, brush up on H&P and SOAP note formats. They even sell notebooks full of blank outlined pages for this if you wish to start with something like that.

Some simple tips:

  • Volunteer to see as many patients as you can handle, at first this may be one and then after some time you’ll be ready for more
  • Instead of depending on the resident to do the interview, try to do the full interview and physical exam independently
  • Prepare your patient presentation by writing it out on paper (not all attendings will be ok with you using your paper notes, but many will be ok with this and either way it helps to prepare)
  • Just assume you will be presenting the patient, not the resident
  • Write a note even if it’s not expected of you, if they don’t allow you to write into the EHR then write it on a word document without identifiers and turn it in to your resident and attending and ask for critique.

How and when to ask for letters:

I think the answer to this is simple. Anytime you feel like you have a good connection with an attending (you’ll know if this is the case), then ask them towards the end of your time with them. Is this the first rotation of third year and you connected with someone??? ASK THEM! It does not have to be a certain specialty, just collect letters and decide which you’ll pick later. It’s better to have too many to decide between vs not enough that you feel confident about.

The coolest thing about sites like SJMO and Kern is that the site coordinators keep your letters safe starting in third year so that you do not have to go back and ask for them while you’re applying for the match. I am not sure if other sites do this. If they do not, I would recommend getting the letter writers email and trying to stay in touch with them and keep them up to date as you go.

The way we asked for letters was in person and by saying “I was wondering if you would consider writing me a letter of recommendation” or “would you consider writing me a strong letter of recommendation”.

PS someone has told me “no” before. And that is ok, you would rather have someone say no then write a subpar letter!

If someone asks you to write the letter for them, we suggest that you do not use that letter and just ask someone else at a later time. Some people do use this to write themselves a good letter, it’s up to your discretion, but an honest letter is best in our opinion.

How to study for the shelf exams:

Find our detailed guides to study for shelves here:

How to crush your cores and impress your attendings:

  • Always show up (on time) and introduce yourself- confidence really is key (but not arrogance) you are here to learn, but make sure to make yourself known, it’s the first step to networking!
  • Volunteer to see new patients in the office or in the ED
  • Expect to do a full patient interview and physical exam and then be prepared to give a presentation. Once you have seen a patient, they are yours til they leave the hospital!
  • Be involved in rounds- present, ask questions, show interest and not just in your patients, in all of them!
  • Get to know your residents and attendings, let your personality shine. People like people they can relate to, it doesn’t always have to be

What is the schedule like?

Click here to check out the documents some students have put together to give you an idea of what the schedule is like at each track location. Not all locations are on the document now and I hope to keep adding it and adding more detail. If you have new details to provide about the existing documents or a location we do not have yet please contact us below!


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