Effective Ways to Work with your Supervising Residents in Med School

June 10, 2015

Clinical rotations, also sometimes called clerkships cause both excitement and fear in most medical students. But whether your dread it or can’t wait, rotations are a big part of your medical school training.

Students listening attentively to their mentorIn addition to having the opportunity to put your medical knowledge to practical use, you also get the chance to develop your bedside manner. Clinical rotations allow you to strengthen your critical thinking skills and learn how to perform various procedures. You’ll get to do all of the above under the watchful eye of your teaching residents.

Although you will interact with attending physicians and chief residents, your direct supervisor will likely be a first or second-year resident. Keep in mind, residents are also the ones who evaluate your performance during your rotation. Your clinical evaluations play a role in which residency you match with.

In order to increase your chances of having a positive experience there are several things you can to effectively communicate and work well with your supervising residents.

  • Show up early

If you want a quick way to make your supervising resident mad, show up late. Medical students should treat their clinical rotations as a job. It is essential to arrive on time or early and make sure you are well prepared. During rounds, you may be asked questions. If you do not know the answers to questions from the attending, it appears your resident is not doing a good job teaching. It is a reflection on your teaching resident. If you look good, they look good.

  • Get clarification on something if needed

If you don’t understand something your resident told you to do, get clarification. The worst thing you can do is assume something, which gets you and your resident into trouble. Keep in mind, not everyone has strong communication skills, which can easily lead to misunderstandings.

  • Show enthusiasm

You don’t have to be upbeat every second, but you should show your resident you are enthusiastic about becoming a doctor, Look at everything as a learning opportunity. Not every experience will be fascinating, and some may even be uninteresting. But in most cases, there is something that can be learned from the situation.

  • Do not correct your resident in front of others

There is a chain of command in medicine. Unfortunately, the medical student is at the bottom. If you correct someone higher up on the food chain, such as your resident, it will not look good. Unless a resident’s mistake is going to hurt a patient, corrections can wait. Consider how you feel when you are corrected in front of others. Now think about how you would feel if the person correcting you had a lot less knowledge or experience. If you do identify a mistake your teaching resident made, ask for clarification later away from anyone else.

  • Don’t wait to be told to something

There are times early on in your clinical rotations that you may not know what is expected from you. But as you become more familiar with a particular rotation, you should have a better idea of what you need to do. Taking initiative is a quality a doctor needs. Residents usually like to see their students step it up and get things accomplished. Although there may be times when you need to wait for direction, there are also many opportunities to take the initiative.

  • If you can, look answers up instead of asking

Your resident is there to teach you. But they are also there to learn and treat patients. Not all residents enjoy the teaching part of their job. Even those who do, may not have time to answer every question their medical students have.  If you can look up the answer to your question without going to your resident, do so.

  • Make your resident’s life easier

Residents work hard. You probably work hard in medical school, but residents have more responsibilities and usually put in more hours. Doing things that make your supervising resident’s life easier can score you points. Although you don’t need to be your resident’s personal assistant, doing some of their mundane tasks can be helpful. For example, some tasks may fall onto residents, such as writing care plans, call pharmacies and scheduling appointments. Ask if you can help out.

  • Alert your resident to critical findings involving a patient

It is your resident’s responsibility to make sure they know what is going on with their patients. But there may be instances where you find something out first. For example, if you determine a patient has a critical lab values, make sure the resident who is supervising is alerted. If your resident does not know and looks bad, you will probably be chewed out later.

  • Get a sense of who your resident is

Some residents will be great people and great teachers, others not so much. If possible, get to know your resident a little by listening to them. Some residents will be a bit distant while others may be personable and friendly. Follow their lead. If your teaching resident is all business, don’t make a lot of small talk.

  • Remember you are being watched

As a medical student, you are evaluated in everything you do. Your interactions with your resident are not the only thing that gets you noticed. How you interact and treat the patients, their families and other medical staff is observed. Treat everyone with respect and you should not have a problem.

  • Avoid taking things that happen in the hospital personally

Stressful situations can lead to a stressful response. If you are in a high-stress situation, such as a resuscitation, nerves may lead people to snap at each other. Try to remember, most things that happen are because of the situation and are not about you.

  • Ask for letters of recommendations early

If you plan to ask one of your supervising residents for a letter of recommendation for your residency, do it early. Residents likely will have to complete several evaluations and are asked for many letters. Get your letter before the resident is sick of writing positive comments.