Using VSAS & VSLO to Find Clinical Rotations and Externships
The AAMC VSAS and AAMC VSLO systems were created as a way for medical students to search for “away rotations” (visiting student rotations) at select institutions. The service provides a way for AAMC registered members to filter out elective clerkship rotations based on several filtering search criteria. It has gone through major renovations in recent years but many students and physicians still find the system difficult to navigate.
Here are some VSAS registration tips, requirements for application, advice for letters of recommendation, and other alternatives if your school does not qualify for VSLO.
Getting Started With VSAS/VSLO
The AAMC Visiting Student Learning Opportunities (VSLO) program is the updated version of their visiting elective rotations network. It combines the Visiting Student Application Service (VSAS) program and the Global Health Learning Opportunities (GHLO) program into one searchable format. It is one of the most comprehensive resources currently in existence for qualifying members. Unfortunately, navigating this system is sometimes far from easy. There are also failures in the search criteria to note that may make a student miss important clinical rotations that they would have otherwise applied for.
The first step is using VSLO is to apply for an AAMC account by going to the VLSO page. This is necessary for future Residency Match processes and to access non-VSLO materials as well so it is recommended all students register even if they do not plan on using this clinical experience program.
You can begin searching elective rotations available through the VSLO system by clicking on the “Sign in to VSAS” button. If you have not yet connected your school to your VSAS account, you will receive this error screen:
Once registered, you will be able to access all information available through your search results listings. Currently, there are two types of VSLO participating institutions: Host Institutions and Home Institutions. If your school or university is not listed as a participating Home Institution you will not be able to use the VSLO system. Skip to Alternatives to VSLO/VSAS below.
Find Clinical Rotations Using VSLO/VSAS
When logged in, click the “Search for Electives” link on the right side of the screen. Though you can search for clinical externships here at any time you will not be able to apply for these spots until you connect your qualifying Home Institution to your account.
Find clinical rotations that match your desired area of study (specialty), location, or even cost by using filter options. Note that the more filter options you use at one time the greater potential likelihood that a rotation may be eliminated that fits your real criteria. The clinical description is set by the hospital or institution administration and may be outdated. See the example given in this video.
Note that many of the options listed give general information but still require you to go to the institution website for updates and applications. This forces students to juggle many potential listings and websites at once. You may need to cross-match the VSLO information with the institution’s updated data.
You may search by price and duration or clinical experience as well. However, if the data has not been updated by the Host Institution administration then you may receive incorrect information in your search results.
How Many Rotations are Available?
There are currently about 145 US Home Institutions listed on the AAMC site. This is a significant portion of the nearly 190 US MD/DO schools listed, but this also leaves dozens of schools without access. For students from these institutions, they must use the Alternatives listed below.
The AAMC also lists approximately 210 Host Institutions within their system, many of which are medical university hospitals. These are fantastic opportunities for those eligible for AAMC’s VSLO system. They provide some of the best learning opportunities, experienced physician educators, and often have top of the line equipment for students to practice with.
For those that do not qualify, there are still hundreds of potential locations to gain clinical experiences that are not listed here. For the underserved students, and the clinical populations that they may ultimately serve, this greatly limits what opportunities are available. Knowledge of these opportunities also often goes unrecognized by many in clinical medicine. This is why VSAS is not the only option for students looking to gain a visiting clinical clerkship.
Alternatives to VSLO/VSAS
The major pitfall of this system is that outdated and external linking makes this a very time-consuming task for medical students and hospital administrators. Though the concept was created out of a great need to better connect students to clinical preceptors and positions outside of their university, the platform has struggled to become more user-friendly.
Also, as there are many institutions that do not qualify for the VSLO program, thousands of students are left with few affordable and effective options. Students looking for US clinical rotations – such as IMGs – may struggle to find safe for-credit observerships and externships. We name several ways to schedule your own rotations in How to Schedule Medical School Clinical Rotations.
Of course, these gaps have led other organizations and companies to try to fill the need with separate networks and products. We did an extensive review of these third-party agencies, costs, locations, and things to be aware of in How to Find Externships for Medical Student Clinical Rotations. They are definitely an option but be warned by the experiences mentioned in our review and by online complaints.
A new platform is also being created at the time of this posting. Our “sister organization”, FindARotation is hoping to debut this fall and will provide a newer, more affordable, and easier to navigate clinical rotations experience than any of the previously listed services. Initially, it will focus mostly on primary care rotations, which is in greater need, before redirecting its focus on hospital-based affiliations. You can follow updates via the FAR Facebook page and may want to save FindARotation.com in your bookmarks for later!