Lydia is a final year Medical Student at King’s College London, where she started clinical placements right from her second year. She shares her best tips on how to make the most of, and more importantly, survive your first clinical placement!
The timing of your first clinical placement will vary significantly depending on the Medical School that you attend. For example, students at some Medical Schools can expect to see patients right from the first few weeks of university. On the other hand, students who are studying more traditional medical courses, such as those at Oxbridge, may only see their first patients in the second half of their course.
There is also a possibility that you may have the opportunity to interact with patients before officially starting a clinical attachment at a hospital or community practice. Some Medical Schools introduce patient communication sessions as early as first year. These sessions are a great opportunity to practice your communication skills with patients, within a comfortable and small-group learning environment on campus.
If you’re unsure when to expect this, you can refer back to the course literature or ask course administrators.
In order to offer a varied and well-rounded placement experience, universities will have students rotate around various ‘blocks’ or modules within a year. This means that in any given placement year, you will have the opportunity to experience multiple different specialities.
Placements can vary in length. Some blocks or modules may be several weeks (often the more ‘big’ specialities such as cardiology or psychiatry). On the other hand, other blocks, which are far more highly specialised, such as ENT (Ears, nose and throat), may not last quite as long.
There are also some clinical attachments that may last an entire year. For example, the GP block at King’s College in Year Two lasts for the entire year and is one day a week.
The type of placement you’ll experience can vary quite a lot depending on the specific curriculum of your Medical School. However, very broadly speaking, since the first few blocks are designed to give you an introduction to general Medicine, they will revolve around common specialities you can expect to come across as an F1 Junior Doctor. These include cardiology, respiratory medicine, acute medicine and general surgery. General Practice is also a very common first placement!
I felt both excited and nervous before my first clinical placement. I was excited to see how I would be able to apply the knowledge that I had gained in anatomy, physiology and pharmacology over the past year, however, I also knew that we would be thrown into the deep end in a busy central teaching hospital!
Don’t underestimate the value of coming prepared to your placement. This will help you really make the most of the learning experience. My tips for preparing for placements are:
Your first placement is a golden learning opportunity and it’s important to take advantage of this. Arriving on a ward without knowing anybody can be at first intimidating. However, it’s important to politely and confidently introduce yourself, and your role to the staff so that they know who you are, and can direct you to the right person that you can attach yourself to for the day.
Additionally, it is important to take initiative. There may be days where everyone is extremely busy and time-pressured. During these times, you can offer to help (of course only with tasks within your remit) and this is will also be a great chance for you to learn more about how hospitals work as well! It is also important to make sure that you speak to as many patients as possible during your placement. After all, they are the best resources to help you consolidate, and expand your clinical knowledge!
The most important thing is that you are enthusiastic, professional and punctual during your first clinical placement! However, you may want to avoid:
The jump from school to university is certainly a big one, and the transition from lectures and classroom-based teaching to placement is yet another leap of its own! One thing that I wish I knew was the importance of initiative.
In a busy teaching hospital, taking the initiative to make sure you achieve your learning outcomes for that day is essential. This may mean helping with outstanding tasks, arranging additional clinics or teaching sessions. This is a great way to consolidate your knowledge and also fill in any gaps you may have!
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