Navigating Clinical Rotations: A Student Perspective from Tufts PA Program - Insights from Blair Guo, PA24

Recent graduate, Blair Guo, PA24, shares her insights
Headshot image of Blair

Can you share your experience with clinical rotations in the Tufts PA program? What clinical settings were exposed to, and what were some highlights of your rotations?

"The Tufts PA program offers diverse clinical opportunities to students. I've had the privilege of experiencing rotations at renowned academic hospitals, community health centers, and a state hospital. This exposure to different environments has been invaluable in shaping my understanding of the various roles of PAs. The clinical experience has not only honed my flexibility and adaptability but also sparked a deep passion for patient care.

My experiences at major academic hospitals were exciting because of the learning opportunities. I regularly attended lectures, conferences, and skill labs with medical students and residents. However, it was my time at local health centers and the state hospital, working with patients who lack access to healthcare, who are homeless, and who are separated from their families, that truly felt fulfilling. It was rewarding to be part of their care team and to learn to communicate effectively, especially when there are language and cultural barriers."

How did the Tufts PA program prepared you for the challenges and opportunities you encountered during your clinical rotations?

"The faculty at Tufts PA program has been extremely supportive. I felt very comfortable reaching out to my advisor and other faculty for help when I was away during the clinical rotations. And I would usually hear back the same day. The program encourages students to speak up and has been a nurturing environment that encouraged me to keep an open mindset and seek guidance during clinical rotations. Going into the clinical year with a learning mindset was beneficial for me in coping with stress, absorbing knowledge during practice, and seeking more opportunities to grow."

What strategies did you find effective in maximizing your learning and growth during your clinical experiences?

"Being proactive! I learn better with my hands, so I asked for opportunities to lay my hands on patients when possible. I admit it was scary to be hands-on for the first time. However, I have found that most preceptors appreciate students speaking up and asking for opportunities (even if we did not quite get it right the first time). Being conscious about seeking opportunities to practice and being proactive have made my clinical year more enjoyable and helped to reinforce my skills. 

Another strategy I used to maximize my learning was to use real patient cases as my study guide. Most preceptors would like students to have a list of differential diagnoses when present. I would use the list to review unfamiliar topics, including scientific concepts, diagnostic studies, or treatments."

Can you discuss the role of mentorship and support from faculty or preceptors in your clinical rotations? How did these relationships contribute to your development as a PA student?

"The program matches each student with a principal faculty member at the beginning of their first year. My advisor checked in with me often and made herself available to accommodate our time when we were away for rotations during the clinical year. Every faculty member was approachable and friendly, and they created a comfortable space for me to ask questions and express concerns during rotations. 

During my rotations, I have had the opportunity to work with preceptors who either teach during the didactic year or have been precepting Tufts PA students for a long time. Some of them are Tufts PA program graduates and are very familiar with the program. They have developed ways to support students during rotations, such as facilitating successful rotations by navigating our interests, holding didactic sessions to reinforce clinical knowledge, offering lots of hands-on teaching, and answering all our questions in the clinic and the OR. These preceptors have helped me prepare for my End of Rotation exam and clinical skills. Moreover, many preceptors were interested in getting to know students and offered help with board preparation, career search, or general advice on becoming a provider."

In your opinion, what are some key factors that contribute to a successful clinical rotation experience, and how do you navigate these factors in your day-to-day practice?

"I prepare myself by familiarizing the patients I will be responsible for the next day. I research any unfamiliar pathology and make a list of questions that I will ask each patient during the interview. This approach helps me reinforce my medical knowledge and improve my efficiency. It allows me to spend more time with the patients, understand their condition, and develop a comprehensive differential diagnosis and plan. 

Collaboration with other team members is also essential for a successful rotation. I was fortunate to work with many great team players, including students and providers. They helped me answer my questions, find good cases to see, and provide opportunities for hands-on practice. They also supported me during tough times, which made my learning experience more enjoyable. 

Lastly, I always ask for feedback from my preceptors. This helps me identify areas for improvement and review any content I missed. It also guides me to focus on areas where I can improve rather than staying in my comfort zone and repeating things I am already proficient at. Feedback from preceptors is invaluable for my professional growth and development."

What advice would you offer to incoming PA students who are about to embark on their clinical rotations in the Tufts PA program?

"The two pieces of advice I want to offer are to keep a learning mindset and be flexible/proactive. During my rotations, I had to consistently remind myself to turn on my learning mindset because there was SO much I did not know, and I could quickly feel overwhelmed or question my ability. Having the learning mindset has helped me so much in focusing on what I am going to learn versus going down the rabbit hole of figuring out why I did not know certain things. The clinical year is tough, but maintaining an open mind has made it more enjoyable and fulfilling, as I've been able to embrace the challenges and grow from them. 

My second piece of advice is to be flexible and proactive. We rotate in a different environment every month, and it is essential to be flexible to adapt to various clinical situations and team dynamics. For most of my rotations, we were shipped off from the main preceptor to different teams, and there was often more than one student on service. It has been beneficial for me to advocate for myself to see cool cases and practice procedural skills. This proactive approach has not only enriched my learning experience but also boosted my confidence in handling diverse clinical scenarios."

Related Links

Tufts PA Program Overview
PA Curriculum Information