Away Rotations

Hello Aspiring Physicians,

Happy Holidays! I hope everyone is able to take a break and spend time with their families. I have been so lucky to be able to mentor medical and pre-medical students this year. It’s nice to have fresh young minds in clinic or in the OR with me. Most of the medical students that rotate with me are interested in Orthopedics but I do get a fair share of those wanting to go into Family Medicine and ER. I wanted to bring up a fairly common question that I get asked from my rotators.

Should I do an away rotation?

What is an away rotation? During your 3rd year of medical school, you will enter the Wards and begin your rotating through the “core” rotations. The core rotations include Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Neurology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Surgery. Each rotation is 4-6 weeks. Majority of these core rotations are done locally at the nearest hospital. Sometimes you may have to travel. The core rotations are extremely important for your grade but also help you to determine what specialty might interest you. If you are interested in a specific surgical specialty such as Ortho, Neurosurgery, or Plastics, etc, some medical schools let you exchange your general surgery core rotation for something else.

When you get to your 4th year, you either know what specialty you would like to pursue or you have at least narrowed it down to a couple of specialties. This is the year that you would opt to do an away rotation. That means that you will do a rotation in your speciality of choice at another hospital/clinic. The away rotations are also considered you “audition” rotations. Away rotations are not mandatory but if you decide to pursue a competitive specialty than I highly recommend you do 1-3 away rotations.

Let’s talk about some pros to doing an away rotation. As much as this is an audition rotation for the residents and faculty to look at you – you are also seeing if the program is a good fit for you. Just think, you get 4-6 weeks to live in a different city, see how the program is run, how the residents work together, what being on call will look like and what the curriculum entails. You get to see the everyday inner workings of the program. In addition, this is a great opportunity to request a letter of recommendation (LOR) from a faculty member. I will be honest that if you are able to get a great LOR from an away rotation faculty that carries a lot of weight on your application.

So let’s talk about some cons of doing an away rotation. They definitely are not cheap. You will need to find a place to live for 4-6 weeks. It’s helpful if you have friends or family members in that city where you can live for free. This is where you need to plan ahead so that you can make those living arrangements and find a place close to the hospital. There is a lot of paperwork associated with an away rotation. You must get credentialed at the hospital get computer access, and make sure your vaccinations are up to date. It can be very time-consuming and stressful. We talked about how you get a chance to see if the program is a good fit for you but this is like a month long interview for you. You are watched, judged, monitored and critiqued the entire time. Talk about stress. But if you nail it then kudos to you.

It’s really important to plan ahead for these away rotations. I would start mid-way through your 3rd year if you know that you will be pursuing a competitive specialty. I would look at housing and see what paperwork/credentialing needs to be completed. When I was applying for Orthopedic residency programs, I made sure that my first rotation in my 4th year was with my home program. Then I opted to do 3 away rotations during the summer so that I could request LORs from those faculty in time for applications in October. I will say that I was able to get an interview at all of my away rotations programs. To me that’s huge when you are trying to get into a competitive specialty.

Here are some other tips that I tell my medical students while they are at their away rotations:

Always be available – You want to be present at all times and helpful with the residents. Some programs rely on their residents to decide on which medical students they like and trust me residents will remember those students who were present during their rotation and those students who decided to sleep during their call.

Ask questions but don’t be annoying – The only way you are going to find out what the program is really like is to ask questions but pick your times wisely. There is a fine line between being inquisitive and annoying.

Introduce yourself to all of the faculty – you never know who will be willing to write you at LOR. But you may find a life-long mentor that will help guide you through your career. Don’t be shy.

The Basics – Be kind and respectful to the staff. That includes the program director, administrative staff, nurses, techs, and janitorial staff. It sounds silly but remember everyone will be watching you. One bad or mean comment to the staff will knock you out of the running really quickly.

Hope this helps,

As always keep smiling and grinding.


Your Med Mentor

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