5 Tips to Help Life Science Students Preparing for Clinical Rotations
Health science professions can include physicians, nurses, and specialists, and a key characteristic they have in common is the need for clinical rotations. At some point along the way, students pursuing these professions must gain specific clinical experience and interaction with real patients in a healthcare setting.
To help them get prepared, you can play a valuable role in connecting students with the necessary tools, resources, and other support to guide their transition.
Why Students Need Help Preparing for Clinical Rotations
Participating in clinical rotations is not like taking the next semester of classes. Though health science students are still learning when they participate in rotations, there is much more involved.
Not only will students have their first experience with direct patient care, but they will be challenged to demonstrate their subject-matter knowledge in new ways. Clinical rotations also take up a sizable chunk of a student’s educational career. For example, after two years of medical school, medical students spend two more years participating in clinical rotations.
Students preparing for clinical rotations need the necessary academic coursework to form a foundation for their clinical training, but to be amply prepared, it’s about more than academics. Students need help navigating clinical site requirements for health and immunization. They can also benefit from having access to resources and mentors who can help them get the most from their clinical training.
How to Help Students Prepare for Clinical Rotations
You can support your students’ smooth transition from the classroom to the clinical site environment by helping them understand what to expect and how to be prepared for clinical training on day one. Use the following tips to get started.
1. Help students meet health and immunization requirements.
To protect students, patients, and visitors, it’s necessary for students spending time in clinical settings to meet specific health and safety requirements. Clinical sites often require proof of vaccination or a negative test result for the following illnesses:
- Vaccination and test of immunity for hepatitis B
- Proof of immunization to measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR)
- Annual PPD tuberculin skin test
- Proof of varicella (chicken pox) immunization, evidence of immunity, or a documented case of chicken pox
- Proof of a tetanus (Td) booster within the past 10 years, and a one-time adult dose of pertussis (Tdap)
- Annual influenza vaccination each "flu season" in accordance with CDC recommendations
- Proof of polio vaccination
- COVID-19 test and (if available) COVID-19 vaccination
In addition, clinical sites may also require the following documents to develop a more complete understanding of a student’s overall health and readiness to begin participation in a rotation program:
- Record of immunization (may include the American Association of Medical Colleges [AAMC] standard immunization form)
- Medical history forms
- Physical exam forms
- Health screening questionnaires
- Photos and demographic forms
- Student enrollment details
Given the many required documents, you can support students by helping them understand and navigate the process of submitting their information. While some students may have all of their health and immunization up-to-date and ready to submit, many others will need to track down information or go for more testing. They’ll need help keeping track of what documents they’ve submitted and which are still outstanding.
Using the following systems and resources will help you streamline the process of gathering and verifying information submitted by students:
- A cloud-based system where students can submit health and immunization information
- Automated reminders to help students stay on top of deadlines and follow-up actions
- Support from trained medical professionals who can answer student questions and provide guidance on test results and other questions
2. Provide resources to facilitate background screening and drug testing.
Students completing their clinical rotations at health systems, hospitals, and other institutions must often complete the same background and drug screening as employees. Not only is it a best practice to screen all individuals who interact with patients and have access to sensitive information and medications, but it is also a requirement to maintain accreditation by The Joint Commission.
To help students complete their screening requirements, you can provide access to tools that make it easy for them to submit demographic information, find a drug screening site, and make an appointment to complete their drug test. Moreover, with access to mobile-friendly tools for completing their background screening and drug testing, students can see their results, check their status, and share their results with clinical sites and others.
3. Help students understand clinical training options and programming.
A study of medical students completing their first clinical rotation found more than half (59 percent) experienced stress at the beginning of their clinical training. Though starting anything new comes with its own measure of stress and anxiety, health science students may be more likely to begin their clinical training with less apprehension if they know what to expect.
You can help students take a stress-free approach to their clinical rotations by providing resources to help them get mentally prepared. Here are some examples of the support you can provide to help students get informed about what to expect:
- Provide transparent resources that explain your school’s traditional structure of clinical education and rotations, including all prerequisites for each stage of the structure.
- Connect students to other students who have already rotated in their desired specialty or clinical site.
- Promote networking and skill-building opportunities such as the American Medical Association’s annual clinical skills workshop.
- Offer students helpful tips for making the most of their clinical site experience, for example, dressing professionally during rotations and establishing relationships with other members of the clinical care team.
4. Connect students to mentors.
Mentorship can be a valuable way to help students prepare for and complete clinical rotations. In fact, a 2020 study of fourth-year medical students found that most students valued having a mentor to help them with rotation choices, residency programs, field of practice options, and their overall career trajectory.
Mentorship for health science students can come from many sources. In addition to individuals who have established a career in a health science profession, faculty members and students who have already completed rotations can also serve as mentors to less-experienced students.
5. Offer support for mental health and work-life balance.
Several studies have found that students pursuing healthcare degrees often experience higher levels of stress, burnout, and mental health crises than other students. Therefore, students who need to balance clinical rotations with an already busy academic schedule may need mental health support.
To help students prepare for clinical rotations and the stress that may accompany the experience, it’s critical to make sure students are aware of available mental health support, including support groups, counseling, and telehealth resources.
Give Your Students a Smooth Path to Clinical Rotations
To help health science students who are preparing for clinical rotations, you need to anticipate their needs and take steps to help them navigate the potential obstacles to their success. By providing students with access to intuitive systems, healthcare professionals, and other resources, you can make it easier for students to submit required health and immunization information and get answers to their questions about what to expect from clinical training.
Embarking on a new phase of their health science professional training brings a wealth of opportunities for health science students, and you can play a valuable role in making sure they have what they need to thrive in the clinical environment. For more tips on how to provide your student with a smooth path to clinical rotations, read Improving Immunization Compliance: A Guide for Your Clinical Programs.