What’s in My Bag For Medical School Rotations

There’s nothing I like more than being prepared and as such, I carry all sorts of things in my bag every day. But there’s a difference between going to an office and going to work at the hospital, especially as a trainee who is new to everything! Before I started my clinical rotations in medical school, I did more than a few Google searches to figure out what I needed to bring to the hospital or clinic and what could I leave at home. I didn’t find a great answer, so now that I’m just about done with rotations, I thought it would be helpful for anyone just starting out or trying to lessen their load to share what I actually used, what never came out of my bag, and what I wished I had thrown in.

What I Actually Used:

  • Stethoscope & Pen Light: The only two clinical tools you should always have on you. While a phone flashlight will work for a neuro exam, a pen light is easy to carry around and lowers the risk of contaminating your phone during an exam.
  • Jacket: One, pockets. Two, pockets. We carry so much around (stethoscope, patient list, pocket medicine, snacks), so pockets are a must. Hospitals and clinics are also often on the cold side, so it’s practical all around. I ordered this jacket through school and it’s been my BFF, but I really want this jacket for residency/life!
  • Snacks: I tried to pack healthy and filling snacks like granola bars, pistachios, and clementines (bonus – they fit in jacket pockets!). When you’re on hour three of rounds, there’s nothing better than a quick bathroom and snack break, made possible when you’ve got the snack with you already!
  • Pocket Medicine: I personally like the print version of this little book, it was most helpful during my internal medicine rotation. There is an app if that’s more your style!
  • Foldable Clipboard: Perfect for carrying your patient list and having a hard surface to write one. It fit in the inside pocket of my jacket and made it less likely that I would lose my patient list. It also includes helpful tips like normal lab values and some physical exam basics that you can use while evaluating your patients.
  • Multi-Colored Gel Pens: My personal favorite are these pens, but the bottom line here is having multiple colors. You can figure out your own system (and it will depend on the service) but I liked to use one color for overnight events, one color for labs/imaging, and another for the updates we made to the plan during rounds. (Keep a few lower quality pens on hand too, your residents and attending will need one at some point, so unless you’re willing to part with the good ones…)
  • Water Bottle & Coffee Mug: Need to stay hydrated and caffeinated. This is my favorite water bottle and coffee mug. Both stay cold/hot for hours!
  • Hand Sanitizer: I know there’s sanitizer all over the place, but I like to carry this one that has moisturizing properties and a much nicer scent than the hospital based sanitizers.
  • Umbrella: When you live in Florida, thunderstorms can pop up out of nowhere. I’ve been caught umbrella-less in more downpours than I’d like to admit, so I do my best to always remember one.
  • Meds & Extra Contacts: You never know when a contact lens will need to be replaced (and I wear dailies), so I always have extras on hand. Also useful to carry some ibuprofen/tylenol and Tums for those inevitable moments when you get a headache or upset stomach but still have patients to see.
  • Chargers: You will use your phone to look up a lot of things and your laptop for patient charting/review so you will need to keep things charged. I would recommend getting an extra phone charger to keep in your bag and an external charger is you’re not going to be close to an outlet.

What Never Came Out of My Bag:

  • Notebook: I thought I would write down learning points but I ended up sending myself articles or keeping a running note on my phone instead.
  • iPad: Some people use the iPad mini since it fits in the pocket of a white coat/jacket but I have a larger one and never felt that I needed it when I could use my phone or laptop.
  • Lipstick – This was a holdover from the pre-COVID times and finally remembered to leave it at home but when I cleaned out my bag, I found 3 tubes of my favorite shade.

What I Should Have Packed:

  • More Snacks: Seriously, the limit on snacks does not exist. Bring more than you think you need.
  • Extra Socks: From unexpected rain to a delivery without booties, this is an underrated item to keep in your bag. Can’t get enough of these socks.
  • Travel Toiletries: This is not necessary at all, but there were times when I would have loved to brush my teeth and wash my face and wished I had a travel sized toothbrush/toothpaste and makeup remover wipes.
  • Chapstick: Wearing a N-95 for 12+ hours made it hard to stay hydrated (especially on surgery) and my lips would have benefited from some moisture! This is my favorite for home but since you have to use your finger, I didn’t find it sanitary for the hospital and kept forgetting to buy something else.

I also pack a big lunch (better to try and eat healthy!) with a lot of snacks and instead of a lunchbox, I used one of the reusable bags that you get from Athleta…but I will likely upgrade to a new lunchbox for residency and I’ve got my eye on this one. In terms of what bag I used to carry all of this, I have a Longchamp tote that has lasted me all four years now and is easy to wipe down (important after being in the hospital!) but a lot of classmates bring backpacks too.

Hope this is helpful!

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