Many medical students look forward to their third year, as its the year when they can finally begin taking care of patients and do the work of a real doctor. However, these new duties don’t mean the third-year doesn’t still have to study, or maintain their personal life, either. Here are some common mistakes made by third-year medical students, and how to avoid them.

Cultivate the Right Attitude

Remember that a huge percentage of your grade will be based on clinical evaluations, and that will be based on how much people like you. Despite the best efforts of certain universities to standardize clinical evaluations, there will always be a certain degree of subjectivity in these evaluations. Which only makes sense – it’s difficult to judge bedside manner or commitment to patient advocacy on a ten-point scale.

This doesn’t mean you should cultivate a false positivity. If something is a problem, by all means, speak up! But avoid being the storm cloud who drags everyone down with whining or complaints. Everyone is just as stressed, tired, and hungry as you are. Focus on your patients and cultivating the proper interpersonal relationships with your peers.

Show Investment

A crucial element of cultivating the right attitude is demonstrating to both your peers and supervisors that you are invested in your patients’ well-being. You’ll surely find some rotations boring, or even gross and unpleasant. Work past those feelings of discomfort, and show you can put your patients’ needs and well-being first.

Remember that there are always new patients coming in, and new work that needs doing. Which means there’s always something you can do. As tempting as it might be to sneak off for a ten-minute break when there seems to be a lull or you’ve just completed one task, don’t. Find someone who needs help, whether that’s a nurse, a patient, or a doctor. Third-year students are expected to go above and beyond to prove they have what it takes. So don’t do only what you’re told. Always be on alert for other ways to contribute.

Stay Off Your Phone

This one’s tricky. Certainly, there’s a wide variety of phone apps which can provide invaluable support for an up and coming physician. And you wouldn’t want to deprive yourself of such a useful tool. However, don’t get reliant. Your phone is just one tool of many. And you certainly don’t want to get a reputation for being someone who’s always on their phone.

Needless to say, save social media until after your shift ends.

Avoid Politics

Office politics, that is. Remember that medicine isn’t a solo practice, it’s a team sport. No doctor can do it alone – they rely on a small army of nurses, orderlies, colleagues, and even the patients themselves to provide top-tier care. If you’re constantly looking for ways to make yourself look good at the expense of your fellow students, you’ll cultivate exactly the wrong kind of reputation.

So share credit when it’s appropriate, always speak well of your peers (even the annoying ones), and be willing to do favors like grab coffee or lend lecture notes.

Don’t Stress

Ha, as if you could just turn stress off!

Seriously, though, try to keep your stress to a manageable level. Recognize that this is going to be one of the most challenging years of your entire life, and make allowances for that. Learn to let little things go, so you can make room for the big things. If you miss a question or two on a pop quiz? Ultimately, that’s not as important as everything else going on in your life. Shrug your shoulders, resolve to do better next time, and move on with the more important things.

Of course, things will happen which really will cause stress. The worst is when you end up losing a patient. This stress, unpleasant though it may be, is entirely valid. Make space for these feelings, and find healthy ways to blow off steam. Going on long runs is both good exercise and can help clear your mind. So can yoga, meditation, or similar practices. Cultivate one or two healthy outlets for stress.

Keep Up With Your Studies

Speaking of stress.

As a third-year medical student, you’ll still be expected to study. The USMLE looms large in your future. And while it may be tempting or even easy to neglect preparing for this important exam in favor of figuring out your role on rotation, don’t. After all, if you can’t pass the USMLE, all your hard work will be for nothing.

Take time out of every week to devote to test preparation. Study practice questions, go over old material, and stay current on the medical news of the day. There are lots of USMLE preparation courses that are available at affordable prices like the one offered by Lecturio, which can help you prepare for these difficult exams, including providing a structured study pattern and good feedback.

Prepare for Your Clinical Rotations

Hand-in-hand with keeping up with your studies is making sure you’re adequately prepared for your clinical rotations. Don’t rely on your previous work to carry you, and don’t show up on your first day with only a vague idea of what you’ll be doing. Remember that each clinical rotation comes with its own exam, and a good exam score can offset a bad clinical evaluation.

So brush up on your rotation ahead of time. Use the above tools to help you study and get a good grasp on the subject matter. Keep referring to those materials throughout the duration of your rotation. The experience you’re getting will make you a better doctor, but so will studying during your off-hours.

Stay Focused

It sounds like a lot, and it is. But it’s not impossible! Remember that you’re part of a long tradition of doctors, who have all gone through the same thing you have. You can and will get through this, and you’ll be an amazing doctor at the end of it. Stay focused on you and your patients, and you’ll do just fine.


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