clinical year pa school

Getting the Most Out of The Clinical Year – Clinical Year Truths Part 2

Part II of Clinical Year Truths. To get the most out of the clinical year, it may involve you taking a lot of initiative and being a self-starter. 

Getting the most of the clinical year is in your control!

On my first day of clinicals, I thought that I would arrive at my rotation, and they would at the very least be expecting me. Also assumed there would be tasks and instructions for me as a student. 

Well, that wasn’t always the case. 

Some were surprised to see a student while others didn’t remember a student was coming 😂. I’m going to spare you one of my rants and jump straight into the post. Below are some things to be aware of for the clinical year.

Each Preceptor Approach Will Be Different

As mentioned above, sometimes, the preceptor may forget that a new student was on the schedule. There are various reasons for this, and we won’t get into them all, but if it’s a busy clinic or they precept many students, it’s easy to have one slip through the cracks. 

With that being said, some rotations will have an orientation to layout your duties and what’s expected of students. Others may feed you to the wolves on day one; I like to call that shock-therapy learning. Should this happen, don’t freak out. It’s good practice because in the real world, you never know what the patient will ask or what insurance will throw at you. Take this time to soak it all up and develop that think-quickly-on-your-feet muscle. As providers, we work under pressure often, so consider this part of your education. 

Don’t Spend The Entire Rotation Shadowing

There may not be a to-do list for you to follow. If you find yourself standing around unsure of what to do or bored because you haven’t been presented with the opportunity to do anything; Just Ask! 

  • Can I close?
  • Can I intubate, the patient?
  • Mind if I insert the Foley?
  • Volunteer to take the patient’s vitals, do the EKG, read the EKG, collect lab specimens, obtain the history then present the patient with treatment suggestions. 
Heads up: It may feel like you’re in the way, and that’s cause you are. Especially in the OR, as sterile field is serious business! It may take a while, but you’ll get the hang of things eventually. Allow yourself to be a beginner/student and show yourself some grace. Oh, and practice practice practice! If you’re able to take some expired gloves home with you to practice, do it! Practice suturing. 

Sometimes you’ll have to do this because the preceptor flat-out forgot you were there or is just in their zone. It’s awkward having someone follow you around all day while working and teaching simultaneously. Just observe what needs to be done and do it.

Pay Close Attention

Because everyone learns differently, everyone also teaches differently. If the preceptor doesn’t say much, that’s usually a cue to watch and learn. Observe what they are doing, especially when they are charting. After following them for a couple of days or weeks, they’ll just assume you saw it enough times and know what to do. And it’ll go something like this: “Start the PreOp note for Jane Doe.” Hopefully, you remember your login and how to do that. Cause they may leave the room after giving that instruction and expect it to be done by the time they get back. 

Heads up: Research & review the 10 most common chief complaints for each specialty prior to the rotation. Exp: for general surgery, expect to see a lot of hernias, so study the anatomy, procedure, practice the physical exam, and know the treatment in preparation for that rotation. Family and internal medicine expect to see a lot of HTN, DM II & preventative medicine. For the peds rotation, know your developmental stages. 

Be Helpful

In smaller clinics, change the paper and sanitize the chairs between patients. Help the MA breakdown, prep and/or setup for the day. Assist the nurse with resistant patients or place a few IVs (if you know what you’re doing) and follow up with patients. There’s a million and one things to get done so if there’s an area you have experience in or eager to learn, jump in. It’s unlikely that you’ll get any protests.


This information is to prepare you. To become a competent PA-C, sometimes you’ll just have to make things happen on your own. Now that you know what to expect, go and rock the clinical year!

Checkout this gem found in my Instagram Story Archives. Happy viewing

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