Rotations vs. Externships: What’s the difference and do I need to do both?

Rotations vs. Externships: What’s the difference and do I need to do both?

Medical students often throw around the terms rotations, electives, clerkships, and externships. Are these all referring to the same thing? The answer is, no!

Rotation: The term encompassing both clerkships and rotations. 

Clerkships: Clerkships are a specific type of rotation required by 3rd year medical students. Medical schools typically require these rotations to be in the fields of internal medicine, family medicine, general surgery, obstetrics/gynecology, pediatrics, and psychiatry.

Elective: Elective rotations are additional rotations typically completed during a medical student’s third or fourth year of medical school. Schools usually require their students to complete a certain number of elective rotations in specialties of the student’s choosing. This gives medical students the opportunity to explore other specialties outside of the core required specialties. 

Externship: an externship, is similar to rotations, however, it is designated for medical school graduates. 

Observership: an observership is NOT hands-on. An observership simply allows you to observe and shadow practicing physicians in either a hospital setting or private practice. 


If I completed my clerkships and elective rotations during medical school do I still need to enroll in an externship after graduation?

It is important to avoid any gaps on your CV. Programs directors like to see that medical students continue their education even after the graduation caps are tossed in the air. So from the time you graduate until ERAS opens it is a good idea to secure an externship or a research position. Not only is this a great way to enhance your CV but it will also give you the opportunity to work under program directors at residency programs. With the increasingly difficult environment surrounding the Match, it is important to do everything you can to stand out in a program directors eyes.