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Clerkship Series: Psychiatry

At SheMD, we strive to provide resources for women in all stages of their medical education. Recently, we realized that we needed to fill a void in resources for students currently in their clinical clerkships. We have reached out to students across the country to help us help you all. They will offer you the ins and outs to several different rotations that you are either currently in or are looking forward to starting some day.

This week Student Doctor Varenya Nallur, a fourth year medical student who has matched into Psychiatry for this summer, gives some tips and advice for your rotation in Psychiatry.

When I first started my Psychiatry rotation during my 3rd year of medical school, I had no idea what to expect. However, one year later I’m here writing this blog post as a freshly matched first-year Psychiatry intern so it’s safe to say I was pleasantly surprised. Your Psychiatry rotation is an integral part of your medical school journey because it offers you an opportunity to gain hands-on experience in diagnosing and treating mental health conditions that you’ll most likely encounter in any specialty you take on. For those of you interested in pursuing a career in psychiatry, this rotation will be your stepping stone towards achieving your goal. Keep in mind that like any clinical rotation, it can be a challenging and overwhelming experience if you’re unsure of what to expect. But not to worry, in this blog post, I’ll be sharing some tips and tricks that can help you ace your psychiatry rotation and be well on your way to matching into Psychiatry.

1. Focus on building strong relationships with patients: In psychiatry, building strong therapeutic relationships with patients is critical. As a student, residents and attendings really want to see you take ownership of your patients and advocate for them! Take the time to get to know your patients as individuals, understand their unique needs, and be a voice for their concerns.

2. Practice your Psychiatric Interview: The psychiatric interview is a unique component of this rotation and getting the hang of it takes skill and patience. Although this could have its own entire blog post, here are some quick tips to keep in mind.

  • Be aware of your own body language and tone of voice, as these can influence how patients perceive you and how comfortable they feel sharing their concerns with you.

  • Establish rapport: Building rapport with your patient is crucial to obtaining an accurate history and creating a therapeutic relationship. Use open-ended questions, active listening, and empathetic responses to build trust with your patient.

  • Use a structured approach: A structured approach can help ensure that you cover all relevant topics and obtain a comprehensive history. Use a standardized psychiatric interview format, such as the DSM-5 criteria or the "5 P's" (presenting problem, predisposing factors, precipitating factors, protective factors, and prognosis).

  • Address cultural and social factors: Be mindful of the impact that cultural and social factors can have on your patient's mental health. Ask about cultural beliefs and practices, family and social support, and any other factors that may influence your patient's mental health in a non-judgmental way.

  • Summarize and clarify: Summarize what you have learned from your patient and clarify any points that are unclear. This can help ensure that you have an accurate understanding of your patient's history and can inform your treatment plan.

3. Be proactive in seeking out learning opportunities: Take the initiative to ask your attending physician or senior residents about interesting cases, upcoming conferences or talks, and any research or scholarly projects that you could be involved in. Attendings love to see that you are eager to learn and to contribute to the field of psychiatry, and your evaluations will most likely reflect this!

4. Prioritize self-care and mindfulness: Last but not least, take time for yourself. Psychiatry can be emotionally taxing, so it's important to prioritize your own mental and emotional health. Make time for things like exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. Developing mindfulness practices can also help you stay present and focused during patient interactions, and can improve your overall well-being. Don’t forget: you have to help yourself first before you can truly help others.

I hope these tips were useful and shed some light on how to excel during your upcoming rotations! Most of these tips can honestly be applied to any of your clinical rotations. If I had to summarize my points into one final thought, I would say to be your patient’s advocate and have empathy. Empathy will take you further in any clinical rotation than any rote medical knowledge ever will. Feel free to contact me through Instagram (@vnallur) or email ( if you have any further questions or just need some moral support during your medical school journey.

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