What Are Clinical Rotations Like?

What Are Clinical Rotations Like? [Detailed Breakdown]

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What are clinical rotations like? This is a common question for new med students who are about to deviate from spending hours in the books and now into the hospital.

While it’s natural to be nervous and anxious, I promise you that once you understand what you’re about to walk into – clinical rotations are some of the best moments of medical school.

You finally get to practice everything you’ve spent so long learning. So in this post I’ll show you exactly what clinical rotations are like.

At the end you can learn even more details about where you can get even more info.

Note: If you do want to learn how to succeed on your clinical rotations, check out one of our top selling books, The Clinical Guide to get a step-by-step walkthrough for your rotations!

Check out The Clinical Guide here.  

The Clinical Guide

Now let’s get into the post!

Why Are Clinical Rotations Necessary?

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

Clinical rotations are really necessary for medical students for three different reasons:

One is the ability to have patient interaction; two is the ability to actively practice with supervision from professionals; the last thing is to have real-life testing scenarios.

Compared to the first two years where you’re spending a lot of time reading about medicine, during your clinical rotations, you’re actually practicing it!

It is realistic. It is what your life as a future physician is going to look like.

You’re going to be spending a lot of time dedicated towards lifelong learning. You will be tested often as you go through real life experiences with your patients, new diseases, and your learning.

It’s important for you to get this practice while you are a medical student. This is when you still have a lot of time to make mistakes and a lot of opportunities for supervision.

Types Of Clinical Rotations

Before we get into what are clinical rotations like, let’s first talk about the different types of clinical rotations. This can be broken down into two different types of clinical rotations- Clinics and Wards.

Let’s quickly break down what each of these is!

What Are Clinics Like?

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

Rotations in a clinic will be basically outpatient medicine. You’re going to be seeing patients for a very short amount of time, anywhere between 10 to 20 minutes.

This can be in almost any specialty you could think of (Family Medicine, Ob-Gyn, etc.). They may also involve more advanced specialties like cardiology and oncology.

As a student, you’ll be seeing the patient, taking history, and doing a physical exam.  

You’ll also be involved in making management decisions with your team on what that patient should do.

One of the unique things about clinical rotations is that you usually have to make your decision pretty quickly.

Your patient wants to understand what they have to do by the end of their visit. Thus, you need to have a plan of what medications they need to take, or what labs or imaging they need to be doing.

Typical Schedule For Clinics

Your typical schedule for a rotation in outpatient medicine will usually be anywhere from 8:00 to 5:00 PM.

Usually, your first patient will roll in around 7:30 or 8:00 AM. You will start seeing them at increments of 20 to 30 minutes until lunchtime around 12:00 PM. Then, you’ll continue to see patients from 1:00 PM to about 5:00 PM before your day ends.

Clinics often don’t have any weekends involved and they’re usually lighter rotations compared to wards in medical school.

What Are Inpatient Rotations Like?

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

Inpatient rotations, also known as wards, are usually considered to be the tougher rotations that you’ll take part in as a medical student.

Typically, when we ask the question “What are clinical rotations like?” we’re asking what are wards or inpatient rotations are like.

So let’s quickly talk about the most common example of wards or inpatient rotations you’ll be doing- Internal Medicine.

Usually, in internal medicine, you’ll be taking care of anywhere from 10 to 20 patients on one team. They will be admitted throughout the week and you will usually have a call cycle on your wards rotation.

What is a Call Cycle?

A call cycle is, usually, a four-day cycle which involves you admitting patients on day one. You take care and discharge those patients from day two to day four. Then, you repeat the process again when day one arrives.

This means you’ll always be having an influx of new patients that have different diseases. Then, you’ll be slowly discharging them and getting ready for your new batch of patients.

Because you’re constantly going to be on call ever so often, your hours on wards will be longer.

Typical Hours For Inpatient Rotations

Your typical hours for an inpatient rotation can be as early as 5:00 AM to as late as 7:00 or 8:00 PM.

This doesn’t mean that every day will be this long, but you have to be prepared for your days to be like so occasionally.

Usually, your schedule involves you coming to look at your assigned patients before your attending and your residents get to the hospital.

If you’re attending gets to the hospital at around 9:00 AM, you have to have seen all your patients by then. You also should have your notes ready and your suggestions for the care of each patient.

If you are a new medical student, you’ll probably have to show up at around 6:00 AM to see all your patients and take care of all your clinical duties.

This whole process of seeing your patients and having things ready is known as pre-rounding.

As you’re pre-rounding, your residents, who are recent graduates of medical school, will have already arrived. You can then ask them for suggestions and provide your insight on what you think you should do for the patient.

As a medical student, this is probably where you’ll learn the most because as you will have the most autonomy. Also, you can see if you’re right or wrong by asking your superiors.

So, basically, you have to get to the hospital at around 6:00 AM and be preparing up until 9:00 or 10:00 AM.

Between 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM, your attending will likely have arrived at the hospital. You and your team will then go to each patient’s room or talk about each patient up until noon.

This is an opportunity for your attending to see every patient and make sure that each, every one of them is taken care for appropriately.

During this time, you will likely be presenting to your attending and providing an oral presentation. You will also be talking to the patient in front of your team members.

You’ll have to explain what you have in plan for their care as well as answer any of their questions.

You’ll typically have lunch or a lecture during wards between 12:00 and 1:00 PM. For the rest of the day, you’re essentially finishing clinical duties that your attendings have assigned to you during morning rounds.

This may simply be following up on lab results or looking up patient information in the electronic medical records. It may also include checking back on patients who have gotten new treatments and making sure they are responding well.

Simply put, you’ll be helping your residents and attendings with anything they need until it’s time for you to go.

The time that you leave every single day will vary. Sometimes, it’s as standard as 4:00 or 5:00 PM, but for other rotations, it can extend to 6:00 or 7:00 PM.

On your call days, expect to stay longer because your team will be admitting patients until very late into the night.

On these days, you will be helping take histories and physicals on new patients, write notes, and essentially helping your residents with any small duties that they may have. So, just expect to stay until up to 10:00 PM.

How Long Are Clinical Rotations?

To understand what are clinical rotations like and how they work, you need to know how long most clinical rotations are.

If you’re on a typical medical school curriculum, then most of your rotations will be broken down into four, six, or eight-week blocks.

This means that every month or every other month, you will be switching to a different rotation to practice and learn a different specialty of medicine.

For example, you may be doing four weeks in family medicine, then switching at the start of the next month to eight weeks on a surgery rotation. Then again, you may go to four more weeks of a neurology rotation.

Each medical student will likely have a different schedule than each other. By the end of the day, you’ll be expected to have completed all of these rotations as well as any end-of-rotation exams that you may have to take.

What Rotations Do Medical Students Do?

Internal Medicine

Internal medicine is a field of taking care of adults usually in an inpatient setting. This involves taking care of patients with heart failure, COPD, diabetes, hypertension, etc.

This is also where you’re going to experience long hours and call days that are very stereotypical for medical school and in medicine.

Usually, your internal medicine rotation is longer. They tend to be anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks because this is where the bread and butter of what we are expected to know in medicine is taught.

Oftentimes, there’s also an end of the rotation exam. If you are in the United States, then you should expect to take a shelf exam at the very end. This is one of the toughest exams that you’ll be taking.

If you’re interested in learning how to do well in your internal medicine rotation, check out the link below!

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

Top Resources for the Internal Medicine Rotation

Surgery Rotation

This is the rotation that most students either look forward to or just completely despise.

Surgery is a very polarizing specialty because it attracts a very unique personality base.

In this rotation, you’re going to be in the OR learning about procedures and refreshing on the anatomy of the body.

At the same time, you’ll learn how to take care of patients before and after surgery.

This is going to be where you’ll learn how to suture, how to gown in and glove, as well as how to hold a retractor for an ungodly amount of hours.

If you are somebody who is really interested in working with your hands, then you’ll probably enjoy this rotation. Plus, you’ll potentially be able to help out on some of the procedures.

Typically, your surgery rotation will be anywhere from 8 to 12 weeks depending on your institution. It also includes a very tough shelf exam.

If you are interested in learning how to do better on your surgery rotation, check out this link down below.

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

Top Tips to Honor Your Surgery Rotation


Pediatrics is one of the most fun rotations that you’ll probably be doing because you’re going to be working with some of the cutest patients possible.

Even if you don’t like kids, this is going to be a great opportunity for you to learn how different pediatrics, and taking care of children in medicine are. You’ll be learning how to take care of newborn babies as well as grown-up young adults.

Usually, your pediatric rotation can be anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks, again, depending on your rotation.

Even though you’re working with young adults, babies, and toddlers, you’ll have a similar role with the other rotations.

You’ll still be taking history and physicals, and helping with medication management, procedures, and imaging. You will also be involved in talking to parents and family members more so than any other rotation.

If you’re interested in learning how to do better on your pediatric rotation, check out this link below.

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

Top Resources to Honor Your Pediatric Rotation


We just finished talking about the pediatrics rotation. Now, let’s talk about the specialty which brings these kids into the world!

Ob-Gyn is one of the coolest rotations that I’ve been a part of. You never experienced anything like this prior to medical school.

You’re going to involved in the delivery of a child, the care of the mother after her delivery, as well as prenatal care and management of any complications.

In addition, you’ll be taking care of other issues regarding women’s health, such as cancer, contraceptives, and more.

Ob-Gyn will be a combination of inpatient wards, procedures in the OR, labor, delivery rotations, and outpatient rotations. This is typically anywhere from a four to a six-week rotation.

If you want to learn more about how to do better on this rotation, check out the link below.

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

My Study Schedule For The Ob-Gyn Rotation To Get My Best Shelf Exam Score Yet

Family Medicine

Family medicine is going to be your typical outpatient rotation as a medical student.

Typically, this is not what we think of when we ask what are clinical rotations like. Yet, this is where you’ll be learning a lot of the bread and butter of your outpatient medicine.

This includes how to manage patients with high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and more. Similar to the clinics’ section, your role as a medical student is going to be taking histories and physicals of these patients.

You should also be able to quickly provide suggestions to your attendings and residents. These are usually four-week rotations.

If you’re interested in how to do better on your end of rotation exam, check out this link.

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

Top Resources and Tips to Honor Your Family Medicine Rotation


Neurology is a rotation designed to help students understand how the brain, the spine, and the corresponding systems work together.

This is going to be typically a four-week rotation where you’ll be taking care of patients with strokes, seizures, dementia, cancer, and other diseases.

Similar to internal medicine, you’ll be typically spending time on an inpatient setting. Although some institutions may have outpatient clinics that you’ll be involved in.

This is usually the time that you master how to work up patients with strokes and seizures, and knowing basic medications that you can provide to somebody with headaches or other neurological issues.

If you want to learn how to do better on your neurology rotation, check out this link.

How to Honor Your Neurology Rotation

Emergency Medicine

Emergency medicine is one of the coolest clerkship rotations that you can take part in as a medical student. Unfortunately, not every medical student does this, so it’s not guaranteed that your institution will require it.

If you do get the chance to schedule it during some elective, then I do recommend doing so.

Emergency medicine will typically be a four-week rotation where you’ll be working in the ER at different hours of the day. You will have shifts scheduled out in the early mornings, the afternoons, the late evening, and overnight.

You’ll be involved in taking histories on patients who come to the ER. At the same time, you’ll be helping your team call consults and specialists to see if the patient needs admitting or if they can go home.

This is also one of the rotations where you get to do a lot of procedures and practice your suturing.

If you want to learn more about how to do better on your emergency medicine rotation, check out this link down below.

[Ultimate Guide] Resources for Your Emergency Medicine Rotation


ICU stands for Intensive Care Unit. This is where you’re going to be taking care of some of the sickest patients in your medical school career.

Typically, this will be done in an internal medicine ward or specialty.

You can be taking care of ICU patients with just cardiology issues. However, you may also be in a general ICU where you take care of very sick patients that have different diseases and diagnoses.

Your roles in ICU is going to be a little bit limited because the patients are so sick. But certainly, you will be learning a lot on how to manage critically ill patients.

You’ll learn how to manage ventilators, medications, pressers, and how to keep these patients stable for days and weeks at a time.

ICU rotations are typically four weeks. They usually are done during your fourth year of medical school.

Elective Rotations

Elective rotations essentially mean that you as a medical student can choose what you want to do during those months.

They’re typically four-week rotations in any specialty or field you could think of although the options depend on what your institution provides.

You tend to do more elective rotations during the latter part of your third and fourth year of medical school.

Elective rotations are done to broaden your exposure into medicine and help you get exposed to potential career paths for your future.

For example, if you think you may want to work with cancer patients, you may be able to do a four-week oncology rotation in a clinic at your local hospital.

Challenges of Clinical Rotations

When students ask what are clinical rotations like, they also want to know what makes them so tough because everyone seems to be complaining about them.

In the following points, I’m going to talk about some of the items that make clinical rotations so challenging.

Finding Time To Study For Tests

Just because you are on clinical duties doesn’t mean you don’t have things to study for.

You often have to prepare for the incoming end-of-rotation exams as well as board exams, like step 2 ck. These are all in addition to having to study for your day to day clinical duties.

It’s understandably difficult for a clinical student who has to go to the hospital from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM to find time to study.

Thus, one of the challenges is finding a balance between how to study and how to study well.

If you want to learn how to do better on your clinical rotations and get better grades, then check out this post below.

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

How to Study for Rotations In Medical School (Step-By-Step Method)

I also shared about Picmonic, another great resource that you can use for your rotations. Check it out here.

There’s No More Multiple Choice

Although we just talked about having end-of-rotation exams, you’ll learn that medicine is not a multiple choice test.

You’re going to be faced with decisions for your patients that are not going to have an A, B, C and D.

In fact, sometimes, there’s not even a right answer! There are just different options and you have to decide which one is the best for your patient.

This makes it tricky for a student who’s been trained to always look for the correct answer.

Now, as a clinical student, you’ll be expected to think of different answers and options and then decide the best course forward.

Pimping From Your Attendings

Pimping is something that we hear a lot about in medicine. Essentially, this means your attending or your residents ask you a medical question in front of your team.

This causes a lot of stress and anxiety among students because we’re never quite sure what our upper-level residents or attendings will ask us.

We obviously don’t want to look silly and ignorant in front of our teams. Thus, there’s always that concern of looking inadequate.

Nonetheless, pimping is usually not aggressive in medical school.

You will typically find that you’re attending will be asking you questions to understand what you know and what you don’t know. Once they can identify this, then they can teach you better and help you progress in your medical career.

Complexity And Nuances

Our textbooks seem to paint medicine and the human body as a very simple system that relies on A, B, and C.

But you’ll quickly realize on your rotations that things aren’t as clear and cut as our textbooks make out to be.

Some of the treatments we thought we should always give patients aren’t as effective. Some of the reasons that we thought diseases are happening are not necessarily true.

Sometimes, we realize that patients often have a lot of diseases that work against each other which limits the medications and treatments we can offer them.

For example, a patient with kidney disease often can’t take a lot of the available medications which may help him with other diseases in his lungs or liver.

Needless to say, these are things you have to be prepared and ready for!

In truth, they make your clinical rotations interesting and fun. Just put in mind that you’ll eventually learn things over time.

Personal Care

When students ask what are clinical rotations like, they also want to know how much time they’ll have for themselves.

We already talked about how your free time is going to be limited because your hours are going to be long. Yet, you still have to find time to study.

With that being said, another challenge of clinical rotations is simply being able to take care of yourself. This includes finding time to exercise, eat, and also sleep normal hours.

On your surgery rotation, for example, there will be nights where you will have only three to four hours of sleep.

Unfortunately, this is not going to be uncommon. But rest assured, it does get better.

You’re going to have rotations, such as family medicine, neurology, and even elective rotations that are going to be lighter. Then, you can have your weekends off to be able to recuperate and relax.

Just understand that regardless of where you are on your clinical rotations, it’s important to take care of yourself. So, make sure you are a priority as much as your studying and your clinical duties are.

Once again, if you want to understand how to do better on your rotations, go ahead and check out this link down below.

What Are Clinical Rotations Like

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Want Tips On How To Succeed In Clinical Rotations?

If you enjoyed this post on helping you understand what are clinical rotations like, then I think you’ll enjoy the following blog post.

How To Study in Medical School [Ultimate Guide]

How to Study For Rotations In Medical School (Step-By-Step Method)

How To Give Better Patient Presentations On Your Rotations [How To Get Honors]

Best Resources For ICU Rotations [Full Breakdown]


But that’s it for this post! Thank you so much for reading and hopefully, you found it helpful!

Talk to you all soon!

Until next time my friend…



1 thought on “What Are Clinical Rotations Like? [Detailed Breakdown]”

  1. Hi can you tell me how much time is between each rotation? Is there time for studying or is it back to back rotations in different cities?

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