How to Schedule Medical School Clinical Rotations
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We previously discussed warnings for Using Medical Rotation Agencies, but what are your other options? Well, especially for international medical students (IMSs) from non-US medical schools or students from osteopathic medical schools (DO), you may be wondering how to set up your own medical school rotations. It can be a bit tricky and doesn’t work for everyone, but if this is an interest you care to explore than here are some words of advice.
Friends & Family
Of course, if you have any personal contacts that are currently licensed MDs or DOs (not NPs, usually) you can always ask if they may be willing to take you on as a student for a few weeks. Most medical schools use 2-6 weeks as the duration of each rotation: with other caveats. For instance, the school I attended would allow a student to rotation in the same practice/hospital/clinic more than once ONLY if there was a separate licensed physician signing off on it. This can be a pain, but it also allows more opportunities for LORs for students.
But just because “your cousin works in a hospital” does not mean they will have the slightest clue as to the process needed to set up clinical rotations, or who to ask. In fact, many hospitals don’t know. If your school doesn’t have these networks in place, or you choose to set up rotations outside of their network, you are on your own. Don’t waste your time asking your relative that is a nurse, lab tech, imaging tech, or other hospital related designation if they “know anyone.” Everyone thinks they do, but unless they have a personal relationship with that doctor AND have seen them with students in the recent past it is unlikely this conversation will help you.
Cold Calling Physicians
When I began reaching out to hospitals in my first year of medical school, I didn’t really know what to do or who to speak with. I called random hospitals in the area I wished to do my rotations, or tried to email first and see whom to speak with. This isn’t a terrible starting strategy, but it didn’t lead me to many successes (leading to the experiences behind the Using Medical Rotation Agencies post). If you do begin this way, start off by speaking to Human Resources and Medical Staff Services. Every hospital system is a little different (and even some hospitals within the same system), but they would usually be the people to speak with or can direct you further.
I didn’t have reliable phone service during this period of time, and relied heavily on emails. These are always delayed responses, and honestly lack the human element that can be very useful for these situations. If at all possible, I recommend calling: with notepad in hand. Write down dates, names, numbers and all other relevant information for your records later on. In my experience, sounding sincere on the phone is much more effective than an emotionless email adding to the pile of emails that hospital staff fall behind each day.
If you are already at the location you wish to attempt to gain medical student rotations, or can get there a few weeks before you wish to begin your first rotation, the walk-in is the best way to get a clear answer. I do recommend calling first and scheduling an appointment with HR or MSS to make sure they are available for a meeting. It’s no fun to walk in and find out the person you need to speak with is out to lunch.
Depending on their system, they may have a list (or can try to make one for you) of physicians that have taken on students in the past. They are often limited on what personal information they can give out, but at least it’s not cold-calling random physicians like a creeper! And often their phone numbers or emails are more direct lines than whatever may show up on a Google search. Again, every hospital is different so hopefully you can find the hospital staff, or perhaps other students in the area, that you get get the run-down from before hand.
You can also try local University Hospitals. They are often more strict on who they let in, and can charge several thousand a week for a rotation spot. They also may be booked out for many months to a year in advance. But it never hurts to contact them.
Lastly, it’s also never a bad idea to see what social media groups, Meetups, or other medical-related organizations are in the area. They may be a unique way to network before hand, or while doing one rotation and looking for more.
Is It Worth the Time?
This method of finding your own medical school rotations is time-consuming, there’s no doubt about it. For many, it may be easier to role the dice with an Agency. However, if you want to decrease the exorbitant expenses of most of these agencies and gain some autonomy on your schedule (or prevent them stealing from you) this is a good option. I gave up because I didn’t approach things the proper way. After an extended time of contacting people, having them leave/change positions, and starting over with new staff I gave up and used an Agency. I really regret that.
If you do decide to go with an Agency, make sure to check reviews. Many bump their numbers on polls, or have polls that do not offer negative/down-voting. Many students are also afraid to post negative comments for fear of retribution. It may be safe to assume that if you find a few individuals with similar complains, there are many more that didn’t want to risk complaining about it.
Once you have your first rotation, don’t waste any time. Feel out your current preceptor to see if he or she knows anyone that may take you. Try to make friends with other doctors (as much as a lowly medical student can) and don’t be shy in asking them if they have ever been a preceptor in the past. Hopefully, some of these tid-bits will help you along your way to set up your own medical student rotation. If you have any advice or experiences, feel free to send them in or post them in the comments.
Good luck and be Persistent!