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What Is a Clinical Clerkship?

By Kenneth W. Michael Wills
Updated Feb 12, 2024
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The clinical clerkship is an important hands-on experience for the aspiring medical doctor. After completing all pre-clinical courses, medical students will usually embark on a rotation of clinical clerkships designed to give students practical experience working in a variety of healthcare environments. Under the supervision of medical doctors, the student will apply what he or she has learned in the classroom to a healthcare setting. Attending medical doctors will provide mentoring and document evaluations during the rotations to help the student ascertain his or her strengths and weaknesses. Earning the Doctor of Medicine degree will usually require specific clerkships, such as internal medicine, while offering others as electives, such as pathology.

Clinical clerkship curriculum is usually around 18 months in duration, depending on the university’s requirements. Most aspiring medical doctors will need to take both a general medicine and a general surgery clerkship. In addition, students will need to take two more clerkships to meet most core clinical clerkship requirements. Either through assignment or drawing lots, students will have to take two of the following: pediatrics, critical care, family medicine, ambulatory medicine, psychiatry or gynecology and obstetrics. Students may have to choose an elective clerkship, a clinical care clerkship and a pre-internship clerkship as well. Successful completion of the clerkship is required in order to continue on and graduate with an MD degree.

During clinical clerkship, students are usually assigned to a hospital or other healthcare setting local to the university’s community. Some students, however, may prefer to take some or all of his or her clerkship study at another educational institution. This is particularly true when the university he or she attends does not offer a specific clerkship for the area in which he or she has interest. Many universities offer visiting clinical clerkship opportunities just for this purpose.

Documenting feedback is an important part of the clinical clerkship.Students will usually provide attending doctors with forms or cards that are filled out to give students valuable feedback and formalization of the process. Participating students will also record all patient interactions and clinical discussions throughout the course of clinical clerkship. Serving as a key method of certifying what the student learned in the classroom, the clinical clerkship rotation seeks to expose all students to the most relevant rotation aspects. Additionally, some clerkships within the rotation may also require students to take and pass an examination in order to participate in the next clerkship.

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