Clinical rotations are absolutely essential in helping health professions students bridge the gap from theoretical classroom learning to real-world experiences with actual patients. Without clinical training, healthcare professionals would lack the practical knowledge required to effectively treat and communicate with patients.

However, to thrive during clinical rotations versus just surviving them, both students and health science programs must be deliberate in taking full advantage of the opportunities rotational programs offer. In fact, to achieve positive clinical experiences, students must be in the right mindset and be adequately prepared for rotations by their undergraduate and campus experiences.

Actions Students Can Take to Thrive During Clinical Rotations

Students benefit from the safe space rotation programs offer to learn from and interact with patients. But as many health professions students discover, having a successful clinical rotation experience requires more than doing the prerequisite classwork and showing up for rotations. Students must also be open to learning more about themselves and others, and they should use available support and resources provided by clinical sites and their college or university.

Here are some of the specific actions students can take to have successful clinical rotations.

1. Network with peers to enhance the learning experience.

Tuning in to the experiences of peers can be a valuable way for students to learn new study techniques, get advice, and share common challenges and successes. Networking also helps students avoid feelings of isolation, because they can learn from the similar experiences of those in their network.

Student networking can take many forms, from a formal peer group that meets at set times to an informal study group students attend on an as-needed basis. Whatever the format, these groups can provide students with opportunities to talk about their experiences and share ideas for managing the challenging workload often associated with clinical rotations.

2. Be mindful of the need for stress management and work-life balance.

Clinical rotations often keep students busy with a combination of classwork, studying, and spending time in direct contact with patients. As a result, it’s not difficult for students to quickly feel overworked and overwhelmed. Moreover, the pandemic may only make matters worse. A recent study on the mental health impact of COVID-19 on medical students found 46 percent were experiencing anxiety symptoms, and 64 percent had symptoms of depression.

Despite the challenges of participating in a clinical rotation program during a pandemic, it’s critical for students to take time for self-care and mental well-being. By taking time to manage stress and pursue a work-life balance, students can thrive in clinical rotations rather than feel burned out.

Some of the ways students can take action to help themselves include the following:

  • Establishing a regular routine for eating well and exercising
  • Socializing with other students outside of rotations and study time
  • Taking occasional breaks to pursue other interests outside of school and rotational work


3. Seek opportunities to connect with patients.

At the core of clinical rotations is the chance to work directly with patients. Students not only learn how to treat patients and their symptoms, but also how to engage with them. Therefore, students should take every opportunity to develop a caring and professional manner, including learning how to speak to patients and their families with genuine empathy.

Ways to Help Students Make the Most of Clinical Rotations

Though you can’t accompany your students to clinical sites to help guide them through every rotation experience, you can offer the support they need to prepare for rotations and find success once they get there.

Helping students thrive during clinical rotations isn’t solely a matter of offering the on-campus classroom learning experiences students need. Campus health and wellness programs can also provide valuable support, as can faculty and other students. Together, these individuals and programs can help your students complete the necessary requirements for participation in clinical rotation programs and learn valuable skills during their rotations, including interpersonal skills and patient management.

Here are a few key ways you can help your students thrive during their clinical rotations.

4. Make sure they’re prepared.

Classroom learning experiences provide a solid foundation for clinical learning. They introduce students to new research in several fields and help them become familiar with new technologies they can expect to encounter during their clinical rotations.

Your student health programs can also prepare students for clinical rotations by offering resources and support to help students meet clinical site immunization and screening requirements. From COVID-19 testing and vaccination to submitting proof of immunization against a range of other illnesses, there are many requirements clinical sites expect students to meet before beginning their clinical rotations.

You can support student compliance with these requirements by offering the following:

 

5. Help students connect with others who can support their clinical rotation journey.

Whether they plan to pursue a career in family medicine, nursing, or another healthcare discipline, students can benefit from insights and advice from others who are more advanced in their healthcare education and career. For example, mentorship from faculty, professionals, and other students who have already had the experience can help students understand what to expect in clinical rotations and how to position themselves for success.

Peer learning is another way to support students as they gain more experience via clinical training. Peer-to-peer healthcare education offers health science students valuable advice and guidance from other students who have “been there.” Students often find it easier to develop more informal rapport with their peers, making learning less stressful and a little easier to navigate. In fact, one study found that peer nursing instruction helped students build confidence and successfully relate theory to their practical clinical experiences.

6. Offer mental health support and resources.

While there are actions students can take to manage their stress and prevent burnout, you can complement those activities with additional support from campus health and wellness programs. For example, your campus health center can offer resources such as support group information, telehealth contacts, and mental health counseling.

Campus faculty can also play a role in supporting student mental health. Because they often have regular contact with students, faculty members can help by offering empathy and flexibility, particularly for students who show signs of struggling. A recent survey of university professors found that 80 percent had held phone, video, or email conversations with students in the past 12 months regarding their mental health and wellness.

Give Your Students Well-Rounded Support

Providing your healthcare students with a well-balanced combination of classroom learning and preparation for clinical experiences requires support from many sources. Professors, student peers, and your campus health program can work together to offer students the knowledge and assistance they need to thrive at their respective clinical sites.

A critical component of having a successful healthcare rotation experience is meeting clinical site requirements for immunizations, drug testing, and background screening. Instead of helping students manage these activities piecemeal, it’s possible to coordinate them all with the support of a single student immunization compliance and screening provider. For insights to help you assess potential providers who can meet your needs, read our student immunization and background screening vendor comparison infographic.