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Seven clerkship survival tips (CST) for new clerks

Congratulations! You’ve finally made it to Clerkship. After years of school, university courses, doing everything else it takes to get into medical school, and then hours of lectures and studying for Pre-Clerkship exams, you have finally reached the moment you’ve been waiting for: Clerkship. You will now be caring for patients as part of a health care team. As someone who has been through all this a long time ago, but still remembers it as though it were just yesterday, I will share with you a few tips that I wish I had been told at the onset.

CST # 1: It is normal to feel the way you do right now: Like you've learned a lot of stuff but you really don’t know anything. Like getting very anxious every time you walk into a patient room and feeling shy to do the history and physical examination. Like you can never answer questions when asked by patients, nurses or your preceptor. Just remember everyone pretty much feels this way at the beginning of Clerkship.

CST # 2: Look out for # 1, you! You have got to find a way to exercise, hydrate, eat and sleep. The habits you develop now will likely stick with you for the rest of your busy life. Clerkship is just a microcosm of how you may likely practice medicine, so do your best to start off on the right foot.

CST # 3: Read one hour every day. And by that I don't mean your emails, your social media, or other distractions. I mean really read. Read in preparation for your group work, read around your patients. Structure your notes in an organized manner so they will help you not just for the next exam but also for the next two years and beyond. Setting your system up now will save you a ton of time later.

CST # 4 Find a few study buddies. In your Clerkship rotation you may now be with classmates that you do not know well. This is the time to build new relationships with people with whom you will hopefully study, and ideally divide and conquer the material to be covered. This can save you a huge amount of time and energy. 

CST # 5 Listen to the nurses. Remember that as the clerk, you are the least experienced on the team. The smartest thing you can do is to not only be respectful to all members of your team, but particularly let the nurses know that you appreciate their extensive knowledge, and any advice they can give you. Having nurses as your allies will save you time and time again.

CST # 6 Your patients are your best teachers. Remember that they are the reason you entered medical school and that they should always be the focus of your time, energy and career. Spend time with your patients. Listen to your patients as, at the end of the day, they are your best teachers.

CST # 7 Speak up. Speak up when you need to advocate for your patient, your colleague, your team member or yourself. There is always a way of doing so without being disrespectful to the person in authority. Those of us who find a way to do this are more likely to make the world a better place.Remember that you have been well prepared to get to this point, at least as well prepared as everyone else, and that this is the moment you've been waiting for. Cherish it.

You’re going to be fantastic.

Geneviève Moineau, MD, FRCPC