Surviving Your Clinical Phase

You passed anatomy and pharmacology and became a master at time management. Congratulations! You’ve made it through your Didactic Phase and now you are ready for the second phase of PA school – Clinical Rotations. During Clinical Rotations you will put your theoretical medical knowledge to the test in real world clinical settings. Under the supervision of a preceptor, you will be placed onto health teams in several different medical settings and specialties.

Your experience in clinical rotations will help you become a confident member of the healthcare team and give you a deeper understanding of the setting and specialty that you may want to pursue in your PA career. We asked PA program directors for their top tips to ensure a successful rotation.


What Program Directors Want You to Know

  1. Be courteous and professional.
    • “Always show up early to your rotation site. On time is 15 minutes before you were asked to be there.”
  1. Be prepared.
    • “Look ahead and learn what types of patient conditions are on the schedule for the next day, so that you can read about them the night before and be prepared to answer questions that the preceptor may ask.”
  1. Stay flexible.
    • “Be a chameleon. Adapt to your practice setting and to practice habits and needs. The more adaptable you are to helping your preceptor, and the more interest and curiosity you show, the more likely they are to teach you.”
    • “Be flexible and pay close attention to instructions provided by the program, clinical observation sites, and clinical rotation sites.”
  2. Be proactive and take advantage of the opportunities available to you.
    • “Strive to view every experience during rotations as a learning opportunity, even if it is not how you would choose to practice.”
    • “Take initiative! Volunteer to do whatever you can. Your clinical experiences are what you make them. If you stand back, the preceptor will not be as likely to engage you or let you see or try more things.”
    • “Trust your program’s curriculum and faculty such that if you learn the material and follow their advice you will become a successful PA. But more importantly, although a strong medical knowledge base will make up an important part of being a competent PA, always keep in mind that it will be your empathy, communication skills, cultural competency, integrity, common sense, and your service to your patients that will really make you a great PA.”

Recommended AAPA Resources for the Clinical Phase

  • Maxwell Reference AAPA provides this pocket guide as a free gift for student members. Keep the Maxwell Guide in your white coat pocket and make sure to never miss a step as you conduct physical examinations, write up patient histories, and interpret lab results.
  • UpToDate – This clinical decision support resource is one PAs trust to help make the right point-of-care decisions. Student members can snap up a one-year subscription for just $99, or a two-year subscription for just $169 (save $215)!
  • Canopy Speak Medical Translator AppAs you navigate your new clinical settings, you will likely encounter patients who speak a primary language other than English. This app translates clinical encounters in more than 15 languages including Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, French, and more in text and audio. AAPA members can unlock premium content from the app after downloading with a special code.
  • Learning Central – Find more than 250+ clinical education activities on a variety of topics. Many activities are free for AAPA student members.

Free Clinical Tools for Rotations

We asked PA students which free clinical tools that helped them on their rotations.

General Rotation

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website (CDC) – This government website has lots of great resources and information for clinicians and patient education resources. Be sure to also check out CDC Mobile Apps – many of which the CDC provides free to clinicians. PA students have especially valued the CDC STD Tx Guide, CDC Contraception, CDC Antibiotics, CDC FastStats, and CDC Vaccine Schedules.

General Medicine Rotation

Pediatrics Rotation

Women’s Health Rotation

  • ASCCP Mobile App – The ASCCP has developed a comprehensive, user friendly app for the Updated Consensus Guidelines for Managing Abnormal Cervical Cancer Screening Tests and Cancer Precursors.

Surgery Rotation