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3rd & 4th Year Students:  How to Excel in Clinic

Posted by Amanda Dexter on Jan 28, 2016 12:00:00 AM


Most of you 4th year students have either recently made the transition to your final rotation site, or are about to change locations within the next few weeks. Your last rotation site is going to be expecting a lot from you.

You are getting closer and closer to graduation and becoming a doctor, and with that comes a lot of responsibilities. You will need to feel comfortable making complex medical decisions on your own, and you will need to be confident as an eye care provider when presented with tough patients.

This is your last chance to take it all in, learn from your attending doctors, and make the most of your final few months working with some of the best optometrists and teachers out there. 

Those of you who are 3rd years are entering your final few months of clinic before you head out to your rotation sites for your final year of optometry school. Your first clinical rotation site away from your comfort zone at school can be intimidating. New cities, new clinics, new preceptors, and new patients can be very stressful, but at the same time very rewarding for your career if you take the right approach. Every rotation will be different, and you will like some better than others, but remember to take each day to learn something useful that will help you in your path to become a better doctor. 

So, whether you are a 3rd year or 4th year, these transitions you encounter as an optometry student will present a whole new set of challenges. Here is a quick list of how to excel in your clinical rotations.

Be on Time 

One of the most important things you can do every single day is to be on time and ready for patient care. It’s not fair to the patients, the staff, other students, and the doctors if you show up late and throw off the entire day’s schedule. Better yet, show up early so that you are completely prepared, have your equipment set up, and are ready to go even before the first patient arrives. Your preceptors will notice that you are dedicated to learning by just completing this simple task every day. 

Do your Research 

Take a look at the records for those patients who are scheduled in your clinic for the next day. Have a game plan ready for all of the testing that you may need to have completed on your patient during their examination. If you are unsure of some of the possible signs or symptoms that you should be looking for based on their prior diagnoses, look up the diseases in your notes or books. Not only will you be more efficient during their exam, you will learn something and look very smart in front of your preceptor. Clinic will run so much smoother for you when you are fully prepared. 

Be Respectful

It’s imperative to make a good impression on your attending doctors. They will be talking about you behind your back, they will be writing letters of recommendation for you, and they will determine if you pass or fail your rotation. As mentioned before, there will be some rotation sites you prefer over others, and some doctors you like working with better, but don’t complain about it. No one likes to be are around people who whine all the time and it will reflect very poorly on you. 

Stay Organized 

One quick and easy way to impress your preceptors is to stay organized. If you know what is going on with your patient and are proactive about offering differential diagnoses and treatment plans, you will find that everyone will want to work with you. One way that a lot of students stay organized is by keeping a notebook of all of the interesting patients they see during their clinical rotations. You will also likely need to keep a brief log of all patients you see for your school; I recommend updating this daily, rather than trying to gather all of the information you’ll need at the end of your rotation. 

Dress Professionally

The need for this advice varies greatly by optometry school as some schools have a dress code from the very beginning, but it is important to present yourself as a professional now that you are seeing patients on a daily basis. It was fun wearing pajamas to class in undergrad, but now you should comb your hair, wear professional clothing and don’t forget some comfortable shoes!

Be a Team Player

It’s important to support your classmates and work together. If you get done with your work early, ask your classmates if they need help instead of leaving early. You’ll appreciate the team atmosphere on those days when you need assistance, and your attending doctors will will notice your extra hard work. 

Practice Communication Skills

No matter how excellent of a clinician you are, patient communication and education is one the most important skills that you'll need as a practicing optometrist. Communication really is EVERYTHING. This is how patients know that you care, this is how they will trust you, and this is the only reason that they will follow your recommendations. Think about the most common questions that you get asked on a regular basis, and come up with well thought-out answers that are easy to understand. This will help you be confident when it comes to explaining diagnoses and treatments to your patients. 

Ask Questions

It’s ok to admit that you don’t know everything. In fact, it’s imperative that you don’t pretend that you know something when you don’t for the safety of your patients. This is the last time in your life when it will be expected that you don’t know everything, so use it wisely and soak up as much information as you can. Ask questions, but remember to ask at the appropriate time and don’t come off as arrogant or questioning someone else’s thought process. 

Be Brave!

Clinical rotations are a time to learn and practice skills. When opportunities come up to use your gonioscope, insert punctual plugs, or perform lacrimal dilation and irritation, seize the day and jump right in! Practice and perfect as many techniques as you can with the experts looking over your shoulder. When a patient with new onset of flashes and floaters shows up on the schedule, call dibs! Challenge yourself even if it means a little more work for you now, it will be a great comfort when you are out on your own to know you’ve already performed that procedure or seen a case like that before.

Don’t Forget to Balance Work and Life 

When you are out on rotation you are essentially working a full-time job, while also still needing to study for boards and work on projects or cases. It can be easy to get caught in a trap of little sleep, little exercise, and lots of junk food. Remember to take care of yourself, explore the new city that you may be in, and take a break from optometry every once in a while. You don’t want to burn out before you graduate.

-Dr. Dexter 

The Top 10 Tips for Applying for Optometry Residencies

OPTP_book1.pngWith over 200 accredited optometry residency programs available, you will need to narrow down your list of residences to apply to.

In order to do so, there are 10 tips we have identified you must cover before you get started! 

Some of the Top 10 Tips include:

  • What kind of research to pursue
  • When you should apply
  • Ranking your choices
  • ...and 7 more!

Topics: 4th Year Student, Rotations, Clinics, 3rd Year Student



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