This is your guide to getting the most out of clinical placements during your time at Medical School.

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!

When Should You Expect 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.

How Long Are Clinical Placements?

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.


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What Types Of Placements Could You Encounter First?

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!

How I Felt Before My 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!

How To Prepare For Your First Placement

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:

  1. Know where you’re going. Whilst this might sound rather simple, hospitals are busy and big places and often difficult to navigate! Making sure you know the ward that you need to report to will ensure you find the right people to guide you throughout the rest of the placement day.
  2. Be punctual. This is important both to make a good impression, and also logistically. Many ward rounds, clinics and surgeries are time-sensitive and if you are not there on time, you may miss vital patient information, or may not find the Doctor you are looking for! It is also important to remember punctuality is a key part of professionalism.
  3. Dress appropriately. Remember, you are expected to adhere to the GMC’s professional guidelines – this includes attire! Check ahead of time whether you are expected to wear scrubs for a particular ward, or your own placement clothing.
  4. Read around the subject. This is imperative to help you make the most of the time you spend with patients. You will get much more out of the learning experience if you understand the context behind a particular patient disease or symptom. For example, if you listen to a heart murmur on the ward, but don’t know what murmurs are, or what they represent, you may be missing a great opportunity to consolidate your knowledge!

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Tips To Make The Most Of Your First Clinical Placement

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!

Key Mistakes To Avoid On Placement

The most important thing is that you are enthusiastic, professional and punctual during your first clinical placement! However, you may want to avoid:

  • Being late. This will look unprofessional to those you are working with and will also mean you could miss out on valuable learning opportunities.
  • Breaking patient confidentiality. This is something you will have learnt about whilst preparing for interview, and now it is time to put it into practice! Make sure you always maintain patient confidentiality and ensure you obtain patient consent for anything that you do.
  • Acting outside of your remit. Patient safety should be at the heart of everything you do and is an absolute priority. Therefore, it’s essential that you never do anything that you are not trained in, or do not feel comfortable doing. When in doubt – ask a senior! This is good practice both as a Medical student and later on as a Doctor working within the NHS.
  • Forgetting to take good notes. Don’t get so swept up in the excitement that you forget to take notes so you can reflect on your experience. Make sure you organise these so you can read them over in the future by using a tool like Quizlet.

The One Thing I Wish I Knew Before My Placement

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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