Words of Advice: Making the Transition to Patient Care

Tania Bertsch, M.D., Associate Dean for Clinical Education
Tania Bertsch, M.D., Associate Dean for Clinical Education

Dear Larner College of Medicine Class of 2019:

You each came to medical school to become a great doctor. You have accumulated a great deal of knowledge, skills and experience since your arrival at the Larner College of Medicine, but to be a really good doctor, you need to apply that knowledge.  You are smart, and you have time dedicated to caring for your patients.  You will be the lynchpin for both the patient assigned to you and their medical teams.  Your patients need your curiosity, your ability to see the medical environment through new eyes.  Those of us already working in the system may be blinded to new ways of doing things, but with your new eyes you can identify ways to make things better for patients.  You are armed with new technologies that will help your team access new literature and new concepts.  It is an awesome responsibility, but it can make a difference in the care your patients receive.   Up to this point, you have had the opportunity to honor a course, now you have the opportunity to honor a patient; it is much more fulfilling!

Embrace every opportunity.  The curriculum in the clerkship year is designed to give you a foundation for clinical medicine.  Some of your clinical training experiences will be interactions that you will never again experience in your entire medical career.  As an internist, my last exposure to children in a clinical context was during my third-year pediatric clerkship!  Much of the “pediatric care advice” I give family and friends are based on those experiences, which sounds scary, I know!  But learning as much as possible in each of your experiences will serve you well.

Find your people.  Clerkship year allows you to try on different paths in medicine for a brief period. As a clerkship student, I often felt as if I was playing “dress up,” and in a way, it was true.  Each clerkship allowed me to learn new things, but also to try on a different persona – the identity of those in that discipline.   Pay attention to what resonates most with you.  You can only do that if you give yourself completely to the clerkship.  Students who only half-heartedly participate in a clerkship, because they think it is not something they would want to consider as a career, cheat themselves out of an opportunity to really challenge themselves to consider other fields.

Develop your professional identity.  Clerkships allow you to form your professional identity and develop skills for successful patient care. You were all admitted to medical school because the admissions committee thought you possessed the values that are essential to patient care, but for many of us, it isn’t until we are challenged with competing demands that we must prioritize those values.   How you choose will define who you will be as a professional.  Think of the type of physician you want to be and ensure you uphold those values every day of your career.

There is so much to learn – be ready!  During the Clerkship year, the learning curve is steep, and you will change and mature in ways that are unimaginable to you today.  The only other year in your training that has such a steep curve is your internship year of residency.   At times you will feel overwhelmed, but remember you will be supported by a dedicated medical team of health professionals who want you to succeed and will be there to ensure you do.

You are almost there, you just need to take that first step!

What are your thoughts about this topic?