Most medical schools consist of 2 years of classroom (didactic) work and 2 years of clinical experience. These clinical clerkships allow students to rotate between different specialties, patient demographics, and learning environments. However, the order in which a learner completes their clinical rotations may impact their test scores and influence the strength of their residency application. Here are the top recommendations from physicians and residency directors interviewed about this question.

1. What Order Should I Take My Clinical Rotations In?

If you have not taken your board exams, set up an elective rotation early on if possible. This will give you more time to study for the shelf exams and your USMLE or COMLEX boards. It can be very stressful to juggle new rotation environments, exam materials, and dedicated time for the boards. This may help lighten the load and prevent burnout early in your clinical education.

2. Boards or Wards?

If you are required to take core rotations first, decide if you prefer a rotation that better prepares you for the boards vs an interest for residency. For the boards, internal medicine will usually be the highest yield. IM plus surgery will give you a greater diversity of experience compared to selecting only non-surgical specialties.

3. Specialty Selection

It can also help a medical student assess early on if they have a desire to pursue that specialty for residency. Schedule your planned specialty early on. This will allow more time to try other options if you decide to change your desired occupation.

4. Where Would You Like To Practice Medicine?

Plan for away rotations to network with staff and students at desired residency sites. If these are in another state, plan your housing, packing/shipping expenses, and transportation concerns well in advance.

5. I Know What Specialty I Want To Apply For

Complete rotations in your chosen specialty prior to interview season! Many students are still completing their 4th-year clerkships when they begin interviewing for residency spots. It will greatly strengthen your application to have completed rotations in the specialty you are interviewing for.

6. Early Match Programs

Military, urology, Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Ophthalmology residency applications open before the NRMP Match. Make sure to schedule accordingly if you plan to apply for these programs.

7. Plan Breaks!

Always set aside time in your schedule for self-care! Daily breaks may consist of meditating, exercise, walking your dog, or having a relaxing dinner with friends and family with no distractions. Though difficult for many medical students, taking a day off each week can really allow for much-needed rest. Stress + Rest = Growth so let’s not leave out that important part of the equation!


Depending on the curriculum and school, medical learners may have limited control over their rotation schedules and internal clerkship availability. However, through FindARotation students can take back their autonomy and add greater diversity to their clinical education.

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