Clinical checkouts are a way to determine whether or not a student is prepared and well-equipped with the skills they need in order to successfully treat and care for a patient. The process of checkouts involves a preceptor who watches the student perform various techniques in under a certain amount of time. To pass, the student must not only be able to performed techniques correctly, but perform them efficiently and in a smooth manner, with accurate documentation, and with proper use of terminology and explanations to patients. Along with other small specifics — such as correct room illumination, measured testing distances, and practitioner bedside manner — it’s safe to say that passing checkouts is no easy task. Worst of all is the STRESS induced on students prior to going into checkouts. It’s understandable to place students in high stakes situations, though. This helps better prepare them for future encounters with patients, national board exams, and emergency clinic cases.
So, the question at hand is how to conquer the dreaded clinical checkouts?! Here are some tips for first-year students and future OD1’s on how to help you pass your checkouts.
- PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE: Needless to say, the most important thing to do to prepare for checkouts is to practice. Repetition is key! You want the techniques you perform to become muscle memory. It’s important to have the physicality of the skills memorized, so that when you have unique patients, you can easily adapt the routine movements you do to conform to the patient you have. When the skills you perform are “no-brainers,” it’ll help give you that confidence you need during checkouts. You’ll effortlessly be able to perform every technique!
- OUTSIDE OF THE EXAM ROOM: Spoiler alert! You don’t need an exam room to practice. Students tend to put a lot of focus on the physical instruments used in the exam room. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of other necessary components forgotten. When you aren’t in the clinic, think about how you want to say things to your patient. You wouldn’t use complex terminology. Make sure you know how to explain the test you are doing in layperson’s terms and understand why you even perform that test so that if a patient asks, you can answer. Don’t forget to remind yourself constantly of other small, yet very important, things such as introducing yourself when you walk in the room, remembering to clean your equipment, and washing your hands in front of the patient. These are all easily neglected but must be completed to pass checkouts!
- REMAIN CALM: I’m sure that’s stating the obvious, but it is so important not to “psych yourself out.” The preceptors and professors are going to make you nervous; you’re supposed to be. You’re going to feel the pressure of trying to perform in a limited amount of time. This is all normal. Try to breathe and realize that you do know what you’re doing. You have practiced and your hard work is about to pay off.
- DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS: It’s easy to beat yourself up from checkouts. Some students pass on the first try, others have to retake. That doesn’t make one student a better or more qualified doctor than the other. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. One technique you struggle with your friend might excel in, and vice versa. It is all a learning experience. Also, no two patients are ever the same. Sometimes you might get lucky and your patient will be a simple one, but another might be very complex. So, don’t compare your checkout experience to anyone else’s.
- A FUN EXPERIENCE: This might be a little more difficult to do but – try to look at checkouts not as a beast to tame, but as a fun opportunity! Yes, it’s nerve-racking, but this is your chance to showcase all of the cool techniques you’ve learned. You can demonstrate what you have practiced and explain all the new knowledge you have gained. This is YOUR exam room and your chance to be the best doctor you can be! In reality, this checkout is just another day of practicing in clinic. Don’t think about what you need to do to pass; think about all you know that you can show!
Clinical checkouts will get easier as you continue on. The skills and techniques you learn might become more complex, but you will soon be in your element and the nerves will slowly fade away. Just trust in yourself and have faith that you have put in the work. You can do this, and you WILL pass those checkouts!