CTU, or the clinical teaching unit, has earned the reputation of being the toughest rotation in the third year of medical school. This is due to a combination of 80-120 hour work weeks, the excess of scut work that has to be done, the sudden responsibility of having our own patient’s to look after, and the constant barrage of questions that we likely don’t know the answer to in front of a large audience (AKA pimping). I have just finished my six-week block of CTU, and I can’t believe how fast the time went by.
CTU is like a less glamorous version of JD’s life on the show Scrubs. The details vary in location, but I think most places share the same basic format.
The days start at 7:30AM, where students often drop-in to pre-round on their patients. From 8:00-9:00, there is morning report. The team then meets from 9:00-10:00 to catch everyone up on their patients. From 10:00-12:00, you see your patients, until 12:30, when instead of lunch you have an hour of teaching. The rest of the afternoon consists of more rounding on patients, teaching, and team meetings. Usually you get to go home at 6:00PM, unless you are on call, which means you are staying until about 12:30PM the next day. That’s the quick and dirty.
Overall, it really wasn’t as bad as everyone made it out to seem. In fact, a lot of it I enjoyed. There is really cool stuff to learn, I loved the people I worked with, and I made some great connections with my patients. The biggest set-back was having all of our exams at the end of the block, so we often had to spend the evenings (or between rounding) studying.
For anyone reading this who has a CTU rotation coming-up, there are a few survival tips that can really make life easier. They seem pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised how greatly things can change when you’ve been on call for 30 hours strait, and being paged at 4:30AM about a patient’s oxygen mask falling off.
Tip number one: always be super friendly. To everyone. You are going to be working long hours, usually with the same people. Everyone will be tired and overworked, and everyone will appreciate having a genuine and kind person to work with. Trust me, not only will it make your day better, but people will repay your kindness by making your life easier. Number two: be prepared to work long and hard hours. Do what you can to help make the life of your residents easier. This is one of the few rotations where you can actually help, as opposed to mostly being a hazard. Number three: make the most of learning opportunities. You will get the opportunity to not only gain huge amounts of knowledge, but also to master physical exam skills. This is one of the few rotations where you can do this, and nothing is expected from us at this point. I would much rather admit to not finding someone’s JVP now, than at 3:30AM as a resident. Lastly, don’t give-up on your hobbies/social life. It is a challenging six weeks, but having something to look forward to when you get home is key. Medicine is a marathon, not a sprint!