What to expect during your med school ICU rotations

December 10, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Gap Medics students getting excited for their hospital placements! Clinical rotations are a big part of medical school. Rotations are usually completed during your third and fourth year of med school. Medical schools differ on which rotations students are required to complete. For example, many med schools require students to do rotations in specialties including emergency medicine, psychiatry and surgery. In addition to the required clinical rotations, medical students also have the chance to select electives rotations.

One of the most exciting and challenging rotations for med students is working in critical care and the intensive care units. ICU rotations may vary by program.

Some students may rotate through units, such as the cardiac intensive care unit or the trauma ICU. Whichever intensive care you rotate through there are several things you should expect.


The type of patients you will care for in the ICU

Patients are admitted into the intensive care unit when their conditions require more advanced care and monitoring than could be done on the floor. Although it varies widely, you may see patients in the intensive care unit with conditions including heart attacks, strokes, head injuries, severe infections and respiratory failure.

Not all hospitals have the same type or number of intensive care units. For example, small, community hospitals may only have one ICU, but many hospitals have a few intensive care units.

Different units may be available based on the type of problem the patient has. For instance, patients who have neurological conditions, which require close monitoring and specialized care, may be placed in the neuro ICU. Children who are seriously ill are often admitted to the pediatric intensive care unit. Regardless of which unit they are in, patients have one thing in common; they are all seriously ill.

Working in the ICU provides a lot of learning opportunities for med students. But there can also be a lot of work. Patients in the intensive care unit often require various types of treatment and interventions, such as dialysis, respiratory support and cardiac monitoring.


Duties of a med student in the ICU

Once you are assigned to a resident in an intensive care unit, your responsibilities may vary depending on individual patient situations. In most cases, med students have a chance to participate in patient rounds each morning. During rounds, the resident will present the case to the rest of the team. This means information about the patient’s condition, test results and treatment plan will be discussed. As a med student, you may be asked questions regarding any aspect of care.

Medical students may also have the opportunity to observe and later perform many complex procedures, which critically ill patients may require. For instance, patients in the intensive care unit may be on a mechanical ventilator to assist with breathing. Patients may also have various lines in place, such as central and arterial lines. Med students may learn how to insert breathing tubes and place lines. In some instances, medical students may also have the chance to participate in lifesaving interventions, such as CPR.