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Mightier Than the Sword: finding the perfect clerkship pen

Mightier Than the Sword: finding the perfect clerkship pen

We (Heather and Eve) spend a lot of time talking about pens. While most people might find this strange, we do not. Finding the right pen is a very serious business. Despite the trend towards  everything in the hospital being on the computer (which, don’t get us wrong, we approve of wholeheartedly) a fully electronic patient chart is still a long way off. Until that day, having a good pen is paramount and one of the few things we have (almost) complete control of during clerkship.

What makes a good pen?

When choosing the right pen, there are a number of different factors to take into account.

Clicky Tops vs. Twisty Bottoms

As illustrated on Scrubs, this can be an divisive issue.

We find ourselves siding with Dr. Kelso in favour of clicky tops as they have the advantage of being quickly and easily manipulated with one hand. Twisty bottoms are just too finicky, and caps are always getting lost.

Ball Point vs. Gel / Ink

In the hospital world, “inky” pens tend to be frowned upon as they don’t work well with carbon copy paper. Having said that, you will still see them frequently used on the wards. You might be able to get away with them for progress notes and the like, but for writing orders you really do need a ball point. If using ball point pens on a regular basis really gets you down, we recommend carrying a cheap ball point for orders and a spiffy ink pen for everything else.

Depew pen

Gel pens also tend to run out very quickly, therefore aren’t always the best unless you are willing to replace them frequently. Another consideration, brought to our attention by Kalie Steen, is how quickly the ink is going to dry. This is especially relevant if you are left-handed, as you tend to drag your hand across the words you’ve just written. In this regard, the ball point pen once again comes out on top, but keep in mind that not all ball points are created equal.

Blue vs. Black Ink

This one is easy. Because everything in the paper chart is eventually scanned, black ink is the way to go. Blue ink just doesn’t show up very well. The only time when you might conceivably need a blue pen is when you studying and need a second ink colour to make a diagram or draw a picture. It’s therefore not a bad idea to have a blue pen or two around the house, but a blue pen has no place in your clerk bag.


The problem with pens is that they are easily lost or…commandeered.

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How much you are willing to fork out for a pen is obviously a personal choice. Some people are excellent at keeping track of their pens – others no so much. We personally advocate carrying around a few “nicer” pens ($2-$3 each) for your personal use, along with some cheaper ones that you can loan out without really worrying about ever seeing again. The Bic Round Stic is a good choice for the latter. By lending this pen you may also be able to readily identify who has it when not returned because his/her shirt/pants pocket will be stained after he/she loses the cap.


Other important considerations include the weight of the pen, the grip, the ease of ink flow, and the overall aesthetic appeal. These are all very personal choices, and in the end the only way to know if a pen is right for you is to try it out.

So where should I start?

For those of you who have yet to hit upon your ideal pen, or those who just want to try something a little different, we’ve compiled a list of nominees for the Best Pen Ever.

The Paper Mate InkJoy 700 RT

IMG_0238“Sleek and elegant in design, the appropriately named InkJoy 700 RT is my personal pick for the ultimate clerkship pen. It’s just the right weight, the grip isn’t too bulky, and it writes absolutely beautifully. I love it so much that often find myself writing things just for kicks. At approximately $2 a pen, I’m not devastated when I inevitably lose one.” -Heather Johnson

The Z-grip Zebra and Adonit Stylus



“I don’t always write with pens, but when I do I choose the Z-grip Zebra. It’s not the smoothest pen you’ll find but it’s reliable, cheap and can often be purchased wholesale at Costco. For the more adventurous it does come with animal print themes to match the name but since I’m not that wild I usually go for simple black.”   – Eve Purdy




The Uni-ball Signo


“Best pen I have ever used. Glides along the paper with ease, while providing comfort at your fingertips with a soft and responsive grip. Can make anyone’s handwriting legible and best of all, its a clicky pen!” – Mason  

The Bic Atlantis 


“The best pen by far is the Bic Atlantis. Clips easily onto lanyards / into pockets, and is smoother than a teenage boy’s upper lip at the end of Movember.” – Zahra 

For a comprehensive analysis of the Bic Atlantis, check out this YouTube review


The Bic Soft Feel


“A good pen for lefties. It won’t smear of muck up the back of your hand.” – Kalie

The Sharpie Fine Tip

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Many alumni even weighed in in the issue.

“The particular benefit of this pen is the lack of associated hand cramps during long writing sessions but the suitability of it for charts has been questioned since it may not satisfy requirements for carbon copy transfer.”- Sarah Leonard


The Staples Sonix Gel

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“Even the staff go out of their way to steal these ones”-Tom Cawthorn


 Bottom Line

Despite extensive research and thought, we do recognize that the holy grail of clerkship pens is likely still out there. We hope that this post helps you make informed decisions regarding your writing utensil. If you have a great pen that wasn’t mentioned here, tell us about it in the comments section below.

Thanks to Dr. Moira Browne (endorser of the fountain pen pictured below) for faculty reviewing this post.

Dr. Moira Browne chooses to use the fountain pen but doesn't think it is a great choice for clerks. Maybe as a graduation gift?


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A junior emergency medicine resident with interest in rural medicine, medical education and social media in health care. When not working in the hospital, she is usually running, playing guitar or planning an outdoor adventure.

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3 Responses to Mightier Than the Sword: finding the perfect clerkship pen

  1. andy neill says:

    Though the most important pen criteria is whether or not you can use it in the cafeteria to do a cric and look like a hero…

  2. stellayiu says:

    Eve and Andy,

    I remember a study looking at airflow (for potential cric) in different pens


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