Essential Toolkit for Every MS3 During Clinical Rotations

We’re sharing a MS3 essentials toolkit to help you thrive during your clinical years and balance studying in and around your clinical rotations.

Hello, future MS3s! I’m sure you’re excited to finally be in the hospital, where you can learn from and help real patients. You will have many rewarding experiences: you get to hold the hand of someone who is worried, help with procedures, and even sometimes change treatment plans because of your attentive input and quick searches. But for all of the rewarding aspects of third year, as you well know, it is also an uphill grind. Third year is so different because of the amount of time you’ll spend on clinical rotation, while also needing lots of study time outside of the hospital. Before I started third year I was wondering if there was anything I needed to buy (and what purchases were overrated) to ensure success for my physical, mental, and academic well being. Hopefully this list can help you thrive during your clinical years.


Good tennis shoes

My absolute number one item—and this is a NECESSITY—is a good pair of tennis shoes. Even shoes that I wore for years and went running with could not stand up to the hours of standing and walking in the hospital. If you find yourself with foot, knee, and/or low back pain, you should immediately switch up your shoes. In this case alone do I feel like spending $100+ is essential. If you are frugal like me and have been wearing the same tennis shoes for years, remember that you might have to buy new tennis shoes six months to a year from now when these ones have broken down (you can also try a $15 shoe insert to stretch the shoe’s life). I myself switched to Hokas, which is a popular brand in the hospital and especially good for standing because they have a lot of cushion. They don’t work for everyone, though, and other popular brands include: On Clouds (I see these a lot), Skechers, and Allbirds (nice because they are easily washable).

Compression socks

On a similar note, I would also recommend compression socks. These can be used on surgical rotations or any rotations that include a lot of standing or rounding. The efficacy and customer satisfaction for these differ from person to person, so it is not a guarantee that they will work for you. Also, the type of sock (amount of pressure, height) does come into play for how much people like them, so you may need to try a different pair if your first does not work for you.

Foldable clipboard

I would like to preface this by saying that you could totally get by without one of these, but many medical students have them, and they are both useful and affordable. When you’re sent to the ER to see a patient or take a daily check-up history, it’s really nice to be able to stand and jot down what notes you need. There are both full-size foldable clipboards and half sizes. I preferred the half size because it could easily fit into a scrub pocket, but some people like the bigger size because there is more room to write. Some come with some basic information printed on the back, like normal vitals and lab values, and some of my colleagues used that; however, you will find that feature is more targeted towards nurses than physicians, and I got by fine without it. 


I would definitely recommend buying a bulk pack of your favorite reliable pen. You will lose pens, and you will “acquire” (a.k.a., “steal”) pens from residents and other medical students. It’s the inevitable cycle of the hospital. This is not the time to use that nice monogrammed pen your grandma gave you. You will use pens all the time, so carry multiple, including those you don’t mind losing if an attending “acquires” them because they need a consent signed by the patient. In the morning you will write down a lot of information to prepare for presentations. To help break it all up, some people use multi-colored pens for different things. Everyone uses these differently, but I have found that I like using black in the morning, blue during/after rounds, and red at the end of the day. In this way I have a chronological order of what needs to be done first. Others will use a certain color for objective information and another color for the things they need to follow up on. 

Water bottle/lunch supplies

This is more personal preference. I limped by with what I had for a while, but once I made the switch to nicer containers, I was grateful. For both water and coffee drinkers (the two liquids of life!) I would recommend going for those insulated, keep- your-drink- hot-or-cold-for-half-the-day cups. Trust me, it’s worth it. I would also recommend going for things that seal completely. As a medical student you rarely have your own dedicated space in the hospital, so being able to throw anything in your bag without the threat of spilling means one less thing to worry about. When it comes to lunch bags, sometimes I use a lunch box and sometimes I throw a random assortment of snacks into my backpack freely. I have eaten many a smushed sandwich, so maybe learn from my mistakes there. Some people buy their lunch from the hospital every day, so that is always an option too. 


This is a section that is not necessary, but can be nice. If your college has a neurology rotation you can buy your own neurology kit or share amongst your classmates. Always check with your class first because they might have very specific requirements that most of the kits you find online would not follow. Buy scrubs you actually want to wear every day. Get yourself a fun badge reel, either related to the specialty you want to go into, or just as a conversation starter. A nice pair of noise-canceling headphones is great for studying in busy team rooms. These are things that aren’t necessary, but help to make your time just a bit more fun and comfortable. 

I hope that this list will help make your transition into the hospital a smooth one. You’ll find that each rotation is vastly different in its requirements and expectations. Because of this, there is really too much information for one blog post, but I do want to recommend the Amboss Clerkship articles. These require an Amboss membership to read, but they go over the general flow for the day and broadly what is expected of medical students in each major specialty. I found them very helpful before my first day, along with asking for advice from students who have already completed the class. You can do this!

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