5 Ways to Have a More Successful Clinic Experience

As a third-year with a whole five months of clinic experience under my belt, I am certainly no expert. But I am still fully aware of (and sometimes still experience) the fear and frustration that comes with being new to seeing actual patients in the clinic. I wanted to share some secrets to success that I have learned along the way and that I wish I had known sooner. I can only imagine there are a million more to come!

  1. Be prepared to feel unprepared

Practicing for two years on my own classmates was nothing compared to my first-ever clinic patient. My healthy 20-year-old classmates were the easiest patients there are! We have spent an insane amount of time studying disease and practicing techniques, but we are still going to have hardships and see new things all the time in real clinic. Be prepared to not know exactly what you’re looking at or the best thing to do in the moment—but know that you have worked very hard to be in that place. Every moment of fear or confusion is a chance to learn something new!

  1. Think of every patient as an opportunity

We’ve all been there: our patient shows up 30 minutes late, it’s nearly dinner time, we have an exam to study for tonight. Basically, our mind starts going to a million places other than the exam room. I understand, sometimes it is hard to get excited when a patient shows up late or on a day when we are not feeling our best. Things may not be super easy now, but they will get easier! Every patient is going to have different eyes, a different set of complaints or problems, a different perspective, and every patient is a new opportunity to continue to learn. It’s not just learning about eyes—sometimes our patients teach us about much more than that. Go into every new encounter with the mindset of bettering yourself and your patient care and remember why you are in this position.

  1. Ask questions

When I first started clinic, I was so nervous about looking dumb in front of my staff doctors. I wanted to be able to do everything perfectly and know everything. The reality is, we don’t know everything! We have been in school for a few years, but our amazing staff doctors have years of experience in practice under their belts. When else in our career will we be able to freely ask questions to experts in real time? Your staff doctors are an amazing resource and are there to teach; ask questions and take constructive criticism. This is our time to learn.

  1. Take notes

Interesting cases, words of wisdom, complex treatment plans—write it all down! I started carrying around a small notebook that I bring to each clinic assignment and take notes in. When you’re seeing multiple patients a day, you’re not going to remember everything. If you take notes, you can revisit encounters and think about what could have been done differently or what you really exceled in. It’s like a scrapbook of your clinic experience and can really come in handy down the road.

  1. Be confident

Last, but definitely not least, be confident! These patients are trusting you to take care of their eye health and you are fully capable of doing so! You have hours of studying and practicing behind you; stick to what you know, approach problems in the best way you know how and just be yourself. Patients will match your energy. If you are confident and happy, most likely you will get a happy and compliant patient in return. You end your exam proud of the care you have provided and your patient leaves the exam room feeling like they have gotten the best possible care; what more could you ask for?

Again, I definitely do not know it all, I might not even know a fraction of what I will one day, but I certainly know more than I did before I started seeing patients. This real-world experience moves at a faster pace than in the classroom setting. It can be overwhelming and scary at times, but simultaneously fulfilling and stimulating. Keep these tips in mind when you start seeing patients and you are bound to already be a step ahead!

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