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The Benefits of Early Clinical Exposure in Medical Education

Medical schools are increasingly emphasizing early clinical exposure for their medical students.

The Benefits of Early Clinical Exposure in Medical Education

While the traditional medical education format — in which the basic sciences are taught during the first two years, and clinical rotations are stressed during the latter two — are still generally followed, many schools provide their students with exposures to the hospital or clinical settings much earlier in their medical education. 

For example, just two months into a first year, you have already spent two weeks in the university hospital rotating through various core specialties.

Is so early a clinical exposure really worth it?

After all, you have barely begun to learn any of the basic sciences expected of a future physician. 

Oftentimes you found yourself not knowing what the doctors were talking about or only making sense of some parts of a diagnosis.

Without having taken anatomy, you spent a half-day looking at ultrasound images and another half day in the operating room watching a surgeon performing a partial nephrectomy; you couldn’t orient youself to where in the body he was cutting.

After all, this early into your medical education, you hardly knew what side of the body the spleen was on.

However, even though you were lost most of the time, those dizzying two weeks you spent in the hospital was an experience you would not want to trade for any other.

To you, the benefit of early clinical exposure was not so much about measurable knowledge gained; it’s more psychological, harder to pin down, but just as important. 

Early clinical exposure provided a larger perspective to your medical education.

It not only gave you a visceral view of your career as a future physician, the experience also gave you an overarching purpose that organized and propelled your learning.

You have come to see that sitting through a lecture, is no longer a tedious necessity of your medical education, but an essential building block that lays the foundation of your medical career.

Whereas you once questioned the need to memorize the location of the renal artery, during an undergraduate anatomy lecture, you now have a newfound appreciation for the absolute necessity of such knowledge — especially after you witnessed a urologist using a Da Vinci machine cutting through layers of fatty tissue and then clamp down the renal artery in order, as he explained to you later, to prevent excessive bleeding when he excised the tumor.

At that moment, you realized that each fact you learn in medical school will one day be filled up and allow you to don the long white coat and live up to the ideals of the Hippocratic Oath.

For these reasons, you cannot overstress the importance of early clinical exposure to your overall medical school education. 

Having been exposed so early in medical school to the rigors, demands, and breadth of knowledge required of physicians in a hospital setting, you, too, have begun your medical training with the end in mind.

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