tips for new clinical year PA students!

It is that time of year that physician assistant students transition from the didactic to clinical year. This is a momentous occasion for the physician assistant student as it signifies an important transition from textbook to clinical student, in which the real world becomes the classroom and critical thinking skills are pushed to their maximum. Here are 6 tips for helping you settle into your clinical rotations. 

1.    Show up on time, every time. When you can’t, be sure to contact your preceptor ASAP! If you need to have some time off, first be sure you clear it with your program instructor, then discuss with your preceptor. These are people who all have family emergencies and personal issues to deal with, and your PA preceptor certainly understands your limited time in PA school. Be upfront and don’t wait until the last second to request a day off! 

2.    Always come prepared, and bring more when in doubt. Bring relevant textbooks to refer to during downtime or when asked by your preceptor to look something up. Have all your tools handy (stethoscope, otoscope, pens, lights, highlighters, reflex hammer, etc.) and packaged nicely in your white coat. Have these ready and handy for each day on every rotation. At some point someone will need something that is in your coat and you will score some brownie points! 

3.    Keep light snacks close by. I suggest peanut butter sandwiches, protein bars, bananas, or anything other than candy or plain carbs. You’ll want a snack that will last long, not just give a sugar high then put you in a stupor. Reusable water bottles are a good idea as well, just keep in mind that, especially in hospital settings, it is difficult to keep carrying it around. 

4.    Shake hands and make note of everyone’s name and title. Get to know the staff members and engage in conversation with them. Ask them about their job and what they like, or why things are done a certain way. It will help you to understand the many other team members you will encounter along the way and how they can help you achieve good patient care. 

5.    Read something relevant every night, even if all you have is twenty minutes. I always found it helpful to review the pharmacology of drugs that frequently came up, or printed an article to read on my way home. In fact, talk with your preceptor about any articles he/she may recommend regarding a topic you discussed for the day. They be impressed at your proactive interest in learning more!

6.    When in doubt, ask questions! During group rounds, fill empty quiet time with a probing question. If you can’t think of anything, fall back on the “tell me more” technique… think back to a recent discussion and say “tell me more about why you chose ‘abc’ instead of ‘xyz’” or “tell me more about how a CT is the best imaging choice for this”. If you have a genuine question, make sure to ask that too. Be sure your questions never come off as condescending. 

Best of luck to all new PA-S2 students! 

Joseph Ciavarro