How To Prepare for PA Clinical Rotations

PA students preparing for clinical rotations

For a student looking to go into the medical field as a physician assistant, the first phase of their education in a PA program is the classroom phase, or didactic phase. Immediately following didactics is the clinical phase that consists of rotations in medical and surgical disciplines.

For many students, the thought of upcoming clinical rotations is both exciting and nerve-racking. While they are eager to gain hands-on experience, they can’t help but fear the unknown. The question looms for many students approaching a rotation for the first time: How do I prepare for my PA clinical rotations?

So, if you are looking ahead to upcoming PA clinical rotations, here are some things you can expect and some ways you can prepare . . .

Know Your Clinical Rotations

According to the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA), the required disciplines for clinical rotations in most PA programs include: family medicine, internal medicine, general surgery, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, emergency medicine, and psychiatry. By the time you graduate from an accredited physician assistant program, you will have completed over 2,000 hours of supervised clinical rotations.

Additionally, the majority of PA programs leave room for you to choose one or more elective rotations in order to gain experience in a discipline that is of particular interest to you. PA programs differ in the elective rotations they offer, but some common options include: orthopedics, cardiology, dermatology, rheumatology, pulmonology, plastic surgery, and ambulatory medicine.

Choosing your elective rotation (or rotations) is a big decision and should be considered carefully.

Do Some Research in Advance

Doing your homework before you show up for day one of your rotation can be helpful. Study up on the knowledge required for your specific rotation and learn everything you can about your preceptor. This research will give you more confidence and may offer an opportunity to identify common ground with your preceptor when the opportunity arises.

Reach Out to Your Preceptor

Before your first day of a clinical rotation, it is a good idea to contact your preceptor to:

  1. Introduce yourself 
  2. Express your enthusiasm about the upcoming rotation 
  3. Ask when and where to arrive (if that information has not been given to you) 
  4. Ask any pre-rotation questions you have 
  5. Thank them for their time and the upcoming opportunity

Note: Your preceptor is likely very busy, so make sure to keep this communication brief, appreciative, and to the point.

Talk to People Who Have Been There

Perhaps the best way to prepare for a physician assistant clinical rotation is to talk to someone who has had the same rotation or preceptor. First-hand experience is invaluable and can make your experience more beneficial and a little easier.

Getting the inside scoop from someone who has been where you are going will inform you as to:

  • How (or when) your preceptor likes to field questions
  • The way your preceptor likes to receive patient presentations
  • The most difficult parts of the rotation
  • Mistakes others have made that you can avoid
  • The personality, quirks, and teaching style of the preceptor

Do the Little Things

Wash and press your white coat? Check! 

Drive the route to your rotation in advance so you know the traffic patterns? Check! 

Pack snacks? Check! 

Wear comfortable shoes? Check! 

Pack a lunch in case there isn’t time to break for lunch? Check!

Doing the little things in advance diminishes stress, demonstrates preparation . . . and keeps your stomach from growling mid-presentation.

You Never Get a Second Chance To Make a First Impression

There is much you can’t control about your PA clinical rotations; however, the way you present yourself on your first day (and every day of your rotation) is absolutely within your control. 

Be sure to show up a few minutes early. Introduce yourself with confidence. Shake hands firmly, and look your preceptor in the eye. Speak clearly and with a positive tone. Listen attentively. Take copious notes. Demonstrate empathy with patients

Clinical rotations for physician assistants is an exciting time to put what you learned during didactics into practice and, more importantly, a chance to learn so much more in a real-world setting. If you’ll do what you can do in advance to prepare for this all-important learning opportunity, your rotation is sure to be a fun, challenging, and rewarding experience.

Are you preparing for an upcoming high-stakes exam like an EOR exam, the PANCE®, or PANRE®? If so, check out UWorld’s comprehensive online learning tool for your didactic, EOR, PANCE, PANRE, and clinical success. Our challenging questions, in-depth explanations, and performance tracking features will have you ready for success on exam day. Start your FREE trial today.

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