The Daunting Clinical Rotation: What You Should Know

-by: Samantha Adas

It was a Saturday morning in August when I opened an email requesting further personal information needed by the hospital where I was to begin my clinical rotation. I immediately thought “What? That can’t be right!” We weren’t supposed to find out about our rotation assignments until the first day of orientation! Yet here I was, the week before my orientation began, with an email indicating that I was starting the internship with my clinical rotation.

It had been over a year since I sat in a Medical Nutrition Therapy class. What did I know? Everyone says clinical is the hardest and most intensive rotation. I remember being genuinely worried.  But before I knew it, orientation week was over and I was walking into my first day of clinical carrying a much too large lab coat in one arm and an outstretched arm to shake the hand of my first preceptor at Holy Cross Hospital.

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While I am sometimes still just as nervous as the first day, with each week I have found myself becoming more confident. I’m learning and practicing all at the same time, with the opportunity to apply my new knowledge daily. There isn’t one day where I am not learning or experiencing something new. Calculations that once took up my whole night are becoming easier each day. The support I have had from my preceptors is nothing like the horror stories I have heard previous to my internship. My preceptors push and challenge me, but also are my best resource when I do need help. And they have allowed me to see that it is okay to ask for help! Even dietitians on the team bounce ideas and questions off of each other all of the time.

Prior to my rotation, I was under the false impression that clinical meant next to no patient interaction. The truth is that some patients are not too interested in their nutrition, as they are focusing on a new diagnosis or a medication plan. However, during my rotation at Holy Cross, I have had many great experiences, as well as memorable conversations, with patients.

For instance, I specifically remember an education consult patient I had one day. After an initial assessment I asked him if he followed any particular diet at home and if he’d like to learn more about nutrition and blood pressure. It turned out that this patient and his wife had been wanting to see a dietitian and had so many questions regarding overall nutrition. I was able to affirm lifestyle changes they were already implementing, such as cooking plant based meals, but also taught them hidden sources of sodium and tips to flavor food in different ways.  Leaving this patient’s room I felt that I had helped motivate him to make small changes in his future dietary behaviors. It is these interactions that excite me most and remind me why I chose to pursue dietetics.

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One aspect I wasn’t expecting is the amount of exposure to the medical field I have been given. During my rotation I have had the chance to learn about conditions and procedures I’ve never even heard of; for instance, I have witnessed barium swallow studies in infants and even followed around the wound and ostomy nurses. These nurses showed me that they incorporate zinc to promote healing by placing a specific tape produced with zinc and oxide over wound dressings. I didn’t realize how integrated all medical professionals are in practice. As a future dietitian, I now realize how vital this background experience is so that I am well informed. 

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As much as I hate to admit it, I went into clinical thinking that I never actually wanted to pursue a clinical career. I even specifically applied to internships with as little clinical as possible because I was so sure it wasn’t what I wanted as a dietitian. I am still unsure where I will end up, this is my very first rotation after all, but I have gained a love and appreciation for this work. I am able to interact with patients each day and experience the excitement and uncertainties that come with working in a clinical setting. It is crazy to me that I will soon begin my clinical staff relief. My clinical rotation, the one I dreaded most and grew to love, will be over. These past eight weeks have flown by, and I am sure the last two will be no different.

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