Thoughts on Away Rotations

School of Medicine

It was dark in the patient room. I turned on the light to the lowest setting and apologized to the patient for waking him up. I asked about his pain and bowel movements and examined the incisions on his belly.

"How long do I avoid lifting for? I got 100 bales of hay coming next week," asked the patient. His remark snapped me out of my routine and I looked around. Right, I was not at Parnassus anymore but hundreds of miles away at an away rotation.

According to a 2016 study, 58.7% of all U.S. applicants for residency programs go on a mean of 2.1 rotations at a cost of $958 per rotation.

Away rotations offer a unique opportunity for fourth-year medical students to diversity their clinical exposure and to establish connections with residency programs.

Students get a “30-day interview” to showcase their adaptability, reliability, and overall readiness to become an intern in hopes of increasing their chances of acceptance into that particular residency program in the following year.

This past summer, I completed two away rotations in a surgical subspecialty. Despite the copious help from program coordinators and residents, working in a new setting was disorienting. I got lost in the hospital hallways.

I fumbled with the different electronic medical record systems. "What does that say about my adaptability and reliability?” I thought.

Then, my worries evaporated when I stepped into the operating room. There was a certain calmness about the familiar crisp air, the sea of blue towels, and the poise of each individual in the room.

I stopped fretting about myself when the patient on the table demanded my absolute attention. I was at ease. That unexpected moment of zen helped me realize that I have come a long way in my medical school education.

So maybe, just maybe, this is where I belong, and I can find myself a spot in the operating room for my career.

Perhaps the passion that draws us to our chosen specialty — whether about a patient population, a disease process, or a procedure — can serve as a constant to guide us along our training across different settings and situations.

With that thought in mind, I was able to enjoy my away rotations. I gained insight into the nuances of various procedures and the functionings of residency programs.

I connected with patients who I wish I could follow longitudinally. I met attendings and residents who went out of their way to mentor me. I bonded with fellow medical students who helped me ways too numerous to count, from coordinating call days to driving me to get groceries.

I went on my away rotations hoping for letters of recommendation and came out with experiences that shaped who I want to be.

I hope this reflection offers some reassurance to medical students going on away rotations in the future.