What to Expect in the 3rd Year of Medical School Rotations

The third year of medical school is often one of the most stressful times in the life of a doctor in training. For the first two years of medical school, students spend 95% of their time in lecture halls, small study groups, and fun places like pathology labs. Then, suddenly and without warning, the students are dropped on to wards in the hospital during their third year. For the next two years, the students will live and breathe everything in the hospital.

A medical student learns a million new skills in their third year of medical school. There are set core rotations that all students must take. Even medical students who want to be psychiatrists when they grow up are required to take 12 weeks of surgery rotations. Another 12 weeks are spent in various medical specialties such as cardiology, renal medicine, ER, respiratory medicine, GI, dermatology, etc. Six weeks are devoted to pediatrics, and six more weeks each are spent in OB/GYN and psychiatry.

Third year medical students are taught the finer points of doing physical exams. They also learn who to write proper medical notes. The lower achieving students in a class will just start by learning how to write a coherent sentence, which is skill that is sadly not as well developed in as many medical students as you’d expect. 

Learning to interview a patient is another skill that is learned during the third year of medical school. Sadly, interacting with people in a caring and friendly manner is a skill that needs to be practiced for way too many third year medical students. Some are naturals at talking with patients – some, well, not so much.

There really aren’t any secret fraternal-like rituals that are learned during third year. There are no pagan sacrifices – no burning candles surrounding pentagrams drawn on hospital sheets with patients blood samples. It’s really rather tedious most days. There’s a lot of running from place to place, trying not to look lost, and hoping that you won’t make a mistake that will kill someone. 

The best way to survive third year rotations is to make friends with your residents. These are th junior doctors on your team that you will spend the most time with. A good set of residents can make a rotation tolerable, and even somewhat entertaining. A bad resident, or one that you piss off, can make your like a living hell. Don’t piss of your residents.

The third year of medical school is survivable. It’s a lot of work, but you are learning a lot at the same time. It really does go by fast, mostly because you really aren’t ever allowed to sit relax. Time flies when you don’t sleep, right?