How to be Helpful On Call As a Medical Student

Amiethab Aiyer, MD | Matthew Varacallo, MD

October 29, 2021


The time has arrived, and you are looking forward to taking your 1st call as a medical student; you have shadowed, spent time the OR, but now you are in the hot seat and are even carrying a pager.  So, what do you do?   Below, we offer some advice for how to succeed when you take call, whether it is earlier in your medical school career or later during the away rotation process.

1Make Yourself Available! 

One of the key variables that you can do to stand out is to integrate yourself into the team.  This may include helping to transport a patient, helping to hold the leg during a procedure, or holding the upper extremity while a splint is being applied.  These actions can be very useful to giving assistance to the residents or attendings on call and help facilitate flow of patient care.  While it may not seem like a big deal, they will get noticed and are very important to be able to make a solid impression, especially as you approach the residency application process.

2Always Carry Trauma Shears With You.  

Just today, I was treating a patient with an ankle dislocation and the visiting student had trauma shears, which was exceedingly helpful for patient care.  Preparedness, anticipation, and forward-thinking go a long way in impressing the residents, fellows, and attendings with whom you will be working.  Another useful tip:  stuff your pockets with all sorts of useful items including tape, trauma shears, dressing supplies and anything else that the team may need in a moment’s notice. This can help you stand out when you are in the thick of a really busy call night.

3Be Willing to Jump into the Fray. 

There is no better way to get used to the flow of residency than to start seeing patients on your own.  Volunteer to see patients independently (if allowed) – take a thorough history, perform the exam, and come up with a treatment plan – especially when you are in the ER setting. Make sure you have done your homework ahead of time whenever possible – read about the given pathology in the Handbook of Fractures, OrthoBullets, or any platform which you currently use. The knowledge that you can gain before you see a consult and the subsequent reinforcement of those concepts afterwards, can be beneficial to your educational experience.  The more hands-on you are willing to be, the easier it is for the residents to rely on you and to consider you a valued member of the team.

4Be Willing to Receive Feedback. 

You will not always get the answers correct to every question. This is one of the important lessons about taking call – it’s normal for you to not know everything! Call is also a great chance to learn how to work with various teams from an interdisciplinary standpoint; additionally, you will also get to work with residents, fellows, and faculty.  This is truly a learning experience and is one that you should relish knowing that it is going to ultimately help you in your path of becoming an orthopedic surgeon.

5Have Fun! 

While it may seem daunting and sometimes a bit mentally and physically taxing, taking call is a great way to connect with the residents, get advice about life and work/life balance, gain insight about the residency program, and learn the skills and pearls about how to actually take call.  This is also a great time to see if the field is the right one for you and to hone in on the different aspects of call duties — whether it be evaluating patients in the ER or helping take care of a polytrauma patient in the operating room.  This is a great opportunity to really identify if orthopedics is the right field for you!


DISCLOSURES: Dr. Aiyer American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society: Board or committee member, Delee & Drez Orthopaedic Sports Medicine (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support, Medline: Paid consultant, Medshape: Paid consultant, Miller’s Review of Orthopaedics (Elsevier): Publishing royalties, financial or material support Dr. Varacallo This individual reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Code of Conduct for Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE.

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