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Gain hands-on experience at regional campuses during your third year

headshot of Eamon Eccles

The transition from foundational science coursework to clinical training marks one of the most significant growth points in the medical school journey. Students at IU School of Medicine have the opportunity to rotate at multiple campuses around the state during their clerkships. This offers the benefit of exposing students to a variety of experiences at each campus. Eamon Eccles, a rising Phase 3 student, shared his story of rotating in Gary and Terre Haute during his clerkships.

What was your experience like at your regional campus rotations in Gary, IN, and Terre Haute, IN?

My first clerkship was surgery in Gary. People will say that the benefit of surgery at a regional campus is that there are no residents, so you get more direct experience and can first-assist on just about every procedure. If you’re interested in surgery, fantastic! But if you’re like me and have no real interest in practicing surgery, that can sound like a nightmare. While I was very anxious, it turned out to be a great experience. My general surgery preceptor was intense and demanding, yet fair. He drove me to do better from day one, and while it was difficult, he got me prepared for the challenges of third year. I also got to spend time with the most relaxed neurosurgeon anyone will ever meet. I had to step out of my comfort zone quite a bit on that rotation, and it was a good growing experience.

My family medicine rotation was in Terre Haute, or “Terredise,” as the Hautians like to call it. More specifically, the clinic I was sent to was in the small town of Marshall, Illinois. I was not exactly thrilled to be out in the middle of nowhere, but it turned out to be a fantastic experience as well. My preceptor gave me a great deal of autonomy in seeing patients and thinking about treatment plans, definitely more than I had anticipated as a third year. He also taught me how to do several procedures, such as steroid injections for knees and shoulders, shave biopsies, and cryotherapy. On a larger medical team, its unlikely that a third year would have been able to take part in all of those activities.

What most surprised you about your experience?

Honestly, what surprised me the most was how much fun I had at the regional campuses. In Terre Haute for family medicine, I had the opportunity to really get to know the staff at the small-town clinic. The staff was incredibly welcoming and friendly; I felt at home the whole time I was there. I also found it surprising how much autonomy my preceptor gave me. I was able to do several procedures (under direct supervision, of course), and even got brought along to a Vigo County Department of Health meeting since my preceptor is on the Board. 

What advice would you give to other students who have 1-2 rotations, in addition to family medicine, at a campus outside of Indianapolis?

First off, I would encourage everyone to recognize the initial emotional response they had to their schedule. Whether it was happy, frustrated, sad, scared, anxious, etc., it is natural to feel some type of emotion. Next, I would ask everyone to think about why they felt that way. Once you take some time to accept that emotion, then you can move forward with making third year the best experience it can be.

Third year is a great time to learn the value of flexibility. It has felt like my motto for third year, whether I was in Indy or elsewhere, was “go with the flow." Things will happen that are outside your control no matter where you are, and this is an opportunity to grow and learn to make the most of it. Also, I would encourage you to keep an open mind. Growing up in a small farm town, I wasn’t thrilled to be going back to a rural area for family medicine. However, that rotation in Terre Haute ended up being one of my favorites because of the amount of hands-on experience my preceptor gave me. I was not at all interested in surgery, but when I was in Gary as first-assist, I learned that guiding the camera during laparoscopic surgeries can actually be fun. If you keep an open mind, you just might be surprised by the experiences and memories you will have, and the connections you will make, at the regional campuses.

How do you think these rotations prepared you for your career?

While being in Indianapolis has its perks, I learned there really are a lot of advantages to the regional campuses as well. A smaller team means more one-on-one time with the attending. This helps springboard your learning and personal growth and also helps with networking (which is never a bad thing). Learning how medicine is practiced differently in different areas also helps open your mind to different styles and teaches the importance of flexibility.

While the basic tenants of medicine are the same from Indianapolis, to Gary, to Terre Haute, the patient populations are different and require different strategies to treat them effectively. Knowing how to communicate effectively with people from different backgrounds and different walks of life is an essential skill, and I believe that is a skill which can be enhanced when our medical education is spent in multiple locations. Aside from all of that, there tend to be fewer distractions at the regional campus. This can feel isolating at times, but it honestly makes it easier to buckle down and study for shelf exams. The extra study time definitely pays off at the end of the clerkship.

What was it like to set up logistics to complete these rotations?

This process will look different depending on the regional campus, so I can personally only speak for the logistics of Gary and Terre Haute. In general, though, you will always receive an email checking to see whether or not you need housing for a rotation at a regional campus. It shouldn’t ever be on you, the student, to initiate this. As far as actually receiving your schedule, preceptor, etc., the regional directors are all very good at getting you that information. I never felt like I didn’t know what was going on while I was at a regional campus.

It was very easy to set everything up in Gary. A week or two before the start of the rotation, I received an email with information about the hotel where I would be staying. It was honestly as simple as that. I knew the address and the check in times, and everything else was covered by IU School of Medicine. There was some additional hospital onboarding, FIT testing, and I had to get a student ID badge for the hospital, but they do a good job of guiding students through that process.

The process for Terre Haute was slightly more involved, but the staff at the Terre Haute campus is wonderful and answered every question I had in a timely fashion. The process for Terre Haute involved renewing BLS certification, setting up a drug screen, and doing more hospital onboarding. This seems stressful to do when you’re already in a clerkship, but it really is manageable. As for housing, they also arranged all of that a few weeks ahead of time, so that on your move in day you could simply meet them in the apartment complex parking lot to pick up the key and your parking pass.

Is there anything you’d like to share about your experience?

I just want to take the chance to reiterate that, no matter how you are feeling about your schedules, it will be okay. You will learn so much about medicine and about yourself, no matter where you are for your rotations. Take it from somebody that was very frustrated about his third year schedule. I didn’t get much of anything that I had preferenced, and from the bottom of my heart I can say that third year has been the most fun I’ve ever had in school. I’m so excited for all of you to finally get out of the classroom and into the wards. It will be a huge challenge, and there’s a massive learning curve, but it is so rewarding to connect with patients day in and day out.


The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Author

Susanna Scott

Communication Specialist

Susanna focuses on communication for Medical Student Education, Faculty and Staff. She is also working toward her doctorate in health communication at IUPUI.