Forget what you know about medical school, the third year is a completely different animal. On top of being able to absorb a large amount of information, third year will test your ability to adapt to new environments, communicate effectively and work well with others. What follows is a list of tips I think will help you thrive during the third year.
1. Be Flexible
It’s number one because it is probably the most important. You will likely be changing clinical sites every 2-4 weeks. This means learning a new system, interacting with new people and having different expectations. This is probably the most difficult part of third year. You begin to become comfortable and then you are shipped off to a new place. Roll with it, get used to introducing yourself to new people and smile.
2. Practice Empathy – For Everyone
I see empathy as putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Obviously this is useful when interacting with patients, but have you thought about being empathetic towards your residents, your attending, the nurses or your fellow students? For each of these people I asked myself, how can I make things a little easier for them? I found trying to think about things from my resident’s perspective allowed me to be a more helpful and involved medical student.
3. Put Away the Smartphone
I know there are incredibly helpful resources available online and through smartphone apps. But in general I think it is better to keep the smartphone in your pocket. You may think you are being discreet but people can tell when you are looking at it and even if you are looking up something relevant it still looks bad. More importantly it is a temptation that allows us to be easily disengaged from what is going on around us.
4. Read about your Patients and their Diagnoses
Everyone will say this because it is true- it’s the best way to learn. Things stick better when you can attach them to a real person. Countless questions I have answered on exams thinking back to clinical experiences I had with patients. It also allows you to ask relevant questions to your attendings and residents. You can say something like “I was reading about this, can you clarify something for me?”
5. Expand your Reading Beyond UptoDate
UptoDate is a useful and simple to use resource. If you want to go a little deeper, nothing beats finding relevant journal articles. I have found very helpful articles by searching Pubmed and specifying “Review” under article types on the left side.
6. Emulate the Best
You will have the privilege of working with and observing many physicians during your third year. Carefully observe the attendings and residents you respect the most and incorporate what they do into your own practice. What phrases do they use when they talk with patients? How do they talk with each other? What physical exam tricks do they use?
7. Adopt a “Craftsman” Approach
I highly recommend Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. In it he advocates for a craftsman’s approach to all kinds of work. Essentially that means identifying skills and then constantly practicing and improving those skills. This can easily translate to medicine. Taking a history is a skill. Physical exam. Suturing. Communication with others. All these are skills that can be practiced and improved upon. Find areas you know you need improvement on and actively seek out opportunities to practice.
I hope I haven’t seemed too intense with these tips. Being perfect all the time is impossible. You have the freedom to make mistakes. Ultimately, if you show up and are eager to learn and participate third year will go great for you.
That’s all I’ve got for now, I hope these are helpful. What tips have you found to be useful during the clinical years?