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Benefits of Early Clinical Exposure to Preclinical Medical Students

Yusuf Mehkri, BS

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October 27, 2022

Early clinical experience is incredibly rewarding and important for medical students for many reasons. My preclinical years included a few preceptorship experiences where we spent time seeing patients at the end of every semester with different clinicians within different specialty areas. I noted multiple benefits right away and reap even more benefits now in my clinical years. 

For the context of this post, the early clinical exposure I'm referring to isn't shadowing or taking vitals. I'm also not referring to clinical experiences such as nursing or scribing roles. I'm referring to experience — as a medical student — with taking a thorough history and physical and attempting to come up with a reasonable assessment and treatment plan. 

One benefit from this type of early clinical exposure that I recognized immediately was avoiding/reducing burnout. A common issue with the traditional model of medical education is that students become disconnected from the world of clinical medicine. It becomes incredibly discouraging when you feel like you're a hundred assignments and dozens of exams away from being able to apply anything you're learning. On top of that, poor performance due to personal life stressors or overlapping commitments may make it seem like you aren't fit to become a physician.

The basic sciences appear to have little connection to actual clinical medicine, and when you struggle even at that, it becomes very demotivating. This process can generate substantial stress and anxiety in students as well as a feeling of lacking purpose. I know of many students who dread those early years in medical school, and the only light at the end of that tunnel is starting clinical rotations.

Early clinical exposure fills some of the void. You get to practice building the true patient-physician relationship alongside your preceptor and learn how to apply your knowledge in ways that you didn't know you could. If you just finished biochemistry and genetics, you could better understand why certain lab work is ordered or why, in some cases, a thorough family history is necessary

If you just finished some of your system blocks such as renal and respiratory, you could start to make sense of asthma management protocols or interpreting lab results for patients on nephrotoxic medications. This brings purpose to the knowledge base that you're building and keeps you motivated. 

Another major reason why early clinical exposure is beneficial is that it helps you practice your skills, and practice makes perfect. One of the hardest aspects of anyone's first years of service is collecting the right information from the patient and being able to effectively relay and present that information to the attending. Early clinical exposure allows you to experience how difficult this can be, especially when working with complex patients.

Another aspect that was difficult for me personally was mastering my physical exam. With standardized patients, I felt incredibly confident to do a thorough exam because I knew that the standardized patient wasn't there for an actual concern and was there to help me learn. With real patients who carried real medical problems, I was more hesitant to be thorough with my physical exam. Practice with real patients early on helped me work past this and built up my confidence, so I now feel better prepared to make my way through my first few rotations.

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About Yusuf Mehkri
Yusuf Mehkri is a second-year medical student at the University of Florida (UF). After attending Carnegie Mellon University for undergraduate studies, he was accepted to the accelerated BS/MD program at UF in Gainesville. He has interests in academic neurosurgery, specifically neuro-oncology and spine surgery. He enjoys research, mentorship and community service — all of which allow him to give back to his community in varying capacities.

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