The first two years of medical school are difficult and intense. That’s when you learn the basic sciences foundational to the study and practice of medicine — and how to apply them to each human body system. These are the preclinical years of Oceania University of Medicine’s system-based modules.

“After two hard years studying basic science, you deserve a reward, and that reward is learning The hands-on clinical skills that come with your clinical rotations,” says Dr. David Mountford, OUM’s Associate Dean for Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. “This is where you will translate all you have learnt to now benefit and care for other human beings,” he adds. When Dr. Mountford joined the University in early 2021, one of his first assignments was to revamp its Clinical Skills Course.

Med students learning IV skills with their physician/instructor

What is the Clinical Skills Course?

In short, it assures that students are ready to engage in all aspects of patient care. Those range from time management and patient communication, to the very tangible tasks like taking a patient history, performing a physical examination, or suturing.

“The Clinical Skills Course is essentially a workshop to teach third-year medical students the skills they need to have, to see patients during their clinical rotations in the hospital,” says Dr. Satu Viali, Interim Dean for Samoa, American Samoa, and the Asia Pacific. He and Dr. Mountford recently led the first Clinical Skills Course held in Samoa, preparing several students to begin their hands-on training at Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital (TTM), OUM’s primary teaching facility. “They learned how to take a patient history and how to examine parts of every body system from the heart and abdomen, to the nerves and musculoskeletal system,” he adds.

A student’s clinical rotations are the opportunity to gain experience you simply cannot get from a book or in the classroom.

“There is a misconception that clinical rotations are for hands-on learning when students will essentially learn skills on-the-job,” says Dr. Mountford. “For some things, that may be true, but more realistically, many clinical skills cannot just be learned, they need to be taught,” he adds.

What do students learn?

White haired smiling doctor in nave scrubs

Those OUM students who have now begun their rotations at TTM Hospital were taught a number of basic procedures, as well as important behaviors, approaches, and communications skills.

“They were taught ethical behavior on how to approach patients and how to communicate with patients and their families. They also learned practical skills like suturing of wounds, inserting IV (intravenous) lines, examining ears, looking into the eyes,” says Dr. Viali. “We also discussed communications and examinations as they relate to Psychiatry, Pediatrics, Emergency Medicine, Surgery, Internal Medicine, and Public Health, among others.”

Prior to taking the Clinical Skills Course, OUM students must pass their Pre-Clinical Examination (PCE) in order to begin clinical rotations, in addition to having the prospectus of their required research project approved. Students intending to practice in the United States must pass the United States Medical Licensing Exam Step 1 instead of the PCE, as well as securing prospectus approval.

Clinical Skills Training From a Global Perspective

Samoan doctor portrait photo

All OUM students are required to complete one four-week elective rotation at TTM Hospital, though some students choose to complete more rotations in Samoa. Most Samoan students complete all their rotations at TTM, as have some students from Australia and New Zealand.

In addition to now holding Clinical Skills Courses in Samoa, Dr. Mountford and colleagues also conduct training for Australian and New Zealand students, typically in Brisbane. OUM’s Dean for North America, Dr. Khrystal Boone, coordinates the Clinical Skills Course for US and Canadian students.

Once Rotations Begin: What Else to Consider

To bolster your success during clinical rotations, OUM faculty have some additional recommendations that are a little less tangible than inserting an IV line:

Develop your bedside manner:

Become the colleague you want to work next to and the doctor you want caring for your mother. Now that you are working with patients, connect with them. Listening to their stories and concerns also helps you retain what you are learning by connecting concepts with actual patient situations. Being the smartest doctor in the room doesn’t mean much if you can’t connect with patients or colleagues. So, be thinking about how you can contribute to the team and take initiative — don’t always wait for someone to tell you what to do.

Know what you don’t know:

And don’t be afraid to ask questions. Medical students who think they must always have the correct answer and never ask for help aren’t doing themselves any favors. Clinical educators are well aware that third-year students are just beginning rotations and learning to transition from the classroom to the hospital. They are also likely to think more highly of those looking to honestly improve their knowledge and skill set than those who already think they “know it all.”

Seize the opportunity:

This is the only time during your medical education when you have the opportunity to be exposed to so many different medical disciplines. Many of the clinical experiences and relationships you encounter during rotations will stay with you throughout your career.

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