How Can I Excel on a Rotation I Don't Like?

Benjamin S. Bryner, MD


November 08, 2011


I am really dreading one of my upcoming rotations. How do I get through it and do well?

Response from Benjamin S. Bryner, MD
Resident in General Surgery, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Not every rotation in your third year of medical school has to be fantastic. Hopefully, you like at least 1 or 2 so you can get an idea of which specialty to choose.

However, if you are like nearly every other third-year medical student, you will have at least one rotation you can't stand. It can be very frustrating, especially if you think about how much you are paying to be there. So don't think about that part.

Here are a few suggestions that may help:

  • View it as another opportunity to learn. If you see a resident or attending physician do something you don't like, you can still learn from that. As a medical student, you should be looking for actions and habits you want to emulate as well as those you want to avoid. If you are picking up more in the latter category on this rotation, so be it.

  • If you are feeling left out of the action, first realize that before you know it, you will be an intern and have too much to possibly do in a day. Still, boredom is one of the hardest things about medical school; I won't deny it. It is frustrating to sit on the sidelines and feel like a third wheel all the time. However, it only lasts a year. During the fourth year it will be easier to feel like an integral part of the team once you know the routine better.

  • If you don't like the rotation because you are having a hard time learning the material, that is something you can address. Try reading from alternate textbooks on the subject; maybe you will find one that helps you learn better.

  • If you still can't seem to master the subject, try to learn as much as possible about your patients. Nothing makes a medical student look smarter than knowing a relevant detail about a patient when nobody else on the team does.

Use the following flowchart to help you think through the issues.

I had a least favorite rotation. I don't want to say which it was, because if you liked that rotation, more power to you. Also, the faculty were terrific, some of the best nonsurgical faculty I worked with, and I got along fine with the residents.

However, I didn't like the day-to-day routine, and patient outcomes can be sad on that service. So I tried to learn as much as I could about doing a physical examination, about how notes and orders are supposed to be written, and about how the hospital works in general. It wasn't my idea of a good time, but I did learn a lot that way.

Since then, I have had several good medical students on surgery who did fine despite the fact that -- I'm pretty sure -- they hated the rotation. (I admit that none of them actually told me this, just like I never told any of the neurology residents what I really thought of the rotation.) They still got something out of it. Even if it made them appreciate the clerkships they did like, that's still something.