Medical school clerkships are a vital part of clinical training for aspiring doctors, bridging the gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world medical practice. 

These clerkships offer hands-on learning experiences, allowing students to work directly with patients under the guidance of experienced physicians. It is a unique aspect of medical education, essential for developing competent, well-rounded healthcare professionals.

This blog post will cover all you need to know about medical school clerkships, from their focus to the skills developed. So, read on for more!

What Are Clerkships in Med School?

Clerkships are a part of medical school where students get hands-on experience by working with actual patients. Unlike residency, which occurs post-graduation from medical studies, clerkships usually take place in the third or fourth year of medical school. Students undergo this phase while being monitored by the watchful eyes of experienced doctors, called attending physicians, who guide and teach them. This helps students learn how to apply their classroom knowledge in real-life situations, making them better prepared for their future careers in medicine. 

Usually, clerkships last for a few weeks to a few months, and at times years, and cover different areas of medicine, like surgery, pediatrics, and psychiatry, among others. This structure allows students to explore various medical fields and gain a broad understanding of patient care.

Why Are Clerkships Important?

Clerkships are crucial in medical education because they help students transition from theory to practice. This experience is invaluable for developing important clinical skills like examining patients, diagnosing illnesses, and planning treatments. Clerkships also deepen students’ medical knowledge by allowing them to see a wide range of health issues firsthand. Moreover, they teach professionalism, including how to communicate effectively with patients and work as part of a healthcare team. Overall, clerkships are essential for shaping competent, caring, and skilled doctors.

Which Are the Core Clinical Rotations in Med School?

Let’s explore the core clinical rotations, which are essential stepping stones in a medical student’s journey. These provide hands-on exposure to different specialties, shaping their future medical careers.

Internal Medicine

In internal medicine clerkships, medical students play a key role in caring for patients with various internal health issues. Under the supervision of experienced doctors, they learn how to evaluate patients. This involves asking patients about their symptoms, performing physical exams, and reviewing medical tests. They use this information to help figure out what’s wrong with the patient (diagnosis) and suggest ways to treat the illness (treatment planning). While students don’t make final decisions alone, their involvement helps them develop critical thinking and clinical skills, preparing them for future roles as doctors. This experience is vital for their growth into knowledgeable and capable physicians.

Family Medicine

Family medicine clerkships, on the other hand, focus on teaching medical students how to care for people of all ages, from babies to older people. In these clerkships, students learn to treat a wide variety of health issues that can affect a person throughout their life. They get hands-on experience in seeing patients for regular check-ups and vaccinations, managing chronic illnesses like diabetes, and dealing with acute problems like infections. The goal is to prepare students to become family medicine doctors, which means looking after the whole patient, including their physical, emotional, and preventive health needs, in a family and community context. This holistic approach is the cornerstone of family medicine.

General Surgery

In general surgery clerkships, one of the most intricate, medical students gain a better understanding of surgical procedures and patient care. How? They can do this by actively participating in the operating room, where they typically assist in surgeries. This might include helping with preparations, passing instruments to surgeons, and observing complex procedures up close. Additionally, students are involved in post-operative care, where they learn how to manage patients’ recovery. This includes monitoring for complications, managing pain, and ensuring patients heal properly. Through these experiences, students gain valuable skills in surgical techniques, teamwork, and patient care, preparing them for their future medical careers to become general surgeons.

Obstetrics and Gynecology

Clerkships in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) help students dive into women’s health, focusing on pregnancy care, childbirth, and gynecological issues. They assist in providing prenatal care and helping monitor the health of pregnant women and their developing babies through regular check-ups, tests, and ultrasound scans. Students also gain experience in gynecological procedures to fulfill all ob-gyn education requirements, which may include assisting in routine exams, Pap smears, and other diagnostic tests. Through these responsibilities, students learn how to support women’s health needs across different life stages, from adolescence through menopause, blending technical skills with compassionate patient care.


Understanding the nervous system, which includes the brain, spinal cord, and nerves, is made possible through neurology clerkships. The main learning objectives in this clerkship are to diagnose and manage conditions affecting these areas, like strokes, seizures, and multiple sclerosis. Each student learns how to become a neurologist by conducting neurological exams, which test reflexes, coordination, and sensation to find out what part of the nervous system is affected. They also learn about different diagnostic tools, like MRI scans and treatments, ranging from medications to lifestyle changes. This experience helps students develop skills in identifying and treating complex neurological issues, preparing them for a wide range of medical challenges.


In pediatric clerkships, medical students focus on children’s health, from newborns to teenagers. They play a key role in well-child visits, which are check-ups to monitor a child’s growth and development, ensuring they reach their health milestones. Students learn to perform physical exams, give vaccinations, and offer advice on nutrition and safety to parents. They also get hands-on experience in managing common pediatric illnesses like ear infections, asthma, and flu, as well as other typical education requirements for becoming a pediatrician. Through diagnosing and treating these conditions, students learn how to communicate effectively with both children and their families, making sure they provide care that is both compassionate and effective.


Students interested in learning more about mental health undergo clerkships in psychiatry. During this clerkship, they learn how to conduct psychiatric interviews, which are conversations where they ask patients about their feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to understand their mental state. This helps in diagnosing mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Students also learn to develop treatment plans that might include medications, therapy, or lifestyle changes to help patients manage their conditions. Through these experiences, students become skilled at listening and communicating effectively, showing empathy, and creating comprehensive care plans. This prepares them to support patients’ mental and emotional well-being as they navigate how to become psychiatrists. 

Elective Rotations

Elective rotations are a special part of medical education where students are encouraged to choose a specific area of medicine that interests them and learn more about it. This flexibility lets students dive deeper into fields they might want to specialize in, such as sports medicine, dermatology, or emergency medicine. 

The hands-on experience offered helps them understand what working in that specialty would really be like. In this sense, the role of clinical rotations cannot be overstated. This direct exposure is invaluable for making informed decisions about their future careers. Essentially, elective rotations help students narrow down their specialty choices by allowing them to discover what they are truly passionate about in the vast world of medicine.

How to Make the Most Out of Rotations/Clerkships

Clerkships are a great way to introduce yourself to the real-life application of knowledge in various fields of medicine. That being said, it’s important to make the most of this opportunity. 

Make sure to set some priorities straight, such as:

  • Being Proactive: Take initiative by asking questions, volunteering for tasks, and showing eagerness to learn
  • Seeking Feedback: Regularly ask for feedback to identify strengths and areas for improvement
  • Building Professional Relationships: Develop connections with doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals for mentorship and support
  • Team Working Skills: Collaborate effectively with the healthcare team, understanding that patient care is a collective effort
  • Communication Skills: Communicate clearly and effectively with both colleagues and patients, ensuring information is accurately conveyed and understood


Clerkships are pivotal in medical education. They offer hands-on experience and a deeper understanding of patient care. They also allow medical students to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world settings, enhancing their clinical skills, professionalism, and communication. To make the most of these opportunities, students should approach clerkships with enthusiasm and an eagerness to learn. 

Dive into each rotation ready to grow because your future as a healthcare professional depends on it. Embrace the journey with an open mind and a proactive attitude!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

How long is a medical clerkship?

A medical clerkship typically lasts a few weeks to several months, depending on the specific rotation and medical school requirements.

Do you get paid for medical clerkships?

No, medical students do not get paid for participating in clerkships, as they are considered part of their educational training.

What is the difference between a clerkship and an internship?

A clerkship is a supervised practical training phase during medical school, while an internship is a postgraduate training period for newly graduated doctors, marking the start of their medical residency.