This is your guide to handling your first patient interaction as a medical student.

Joely is a final year Graduate Entry Medicine student at King’s College London, who’s been interacting with patients since the first term of her second year on the course. She shares her top tips for surviving your first patient interaction when you start Medical School.

When To Expect Patient Interaction

Although I got exposure fairly early on in my degree, the time you meet your first patient will vary depending on the overall teaching structure at your chosen Medical School. Integrated courses allow for early clinical exposure, whereas the more traditional courses focus on teaching the fundamentals before putting you into a clinical environment.

Due to the integrated curriculum at King’s, I have had interactions with patients from my first term of the second year, and in the last year I’ve been building up to being in the clinical setting full time. My upcoming final year will involve a full-time clinical placement.


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My First Patient Interaction

I remember the first time I was asked to go and take a patient’s history, in my second year GP placement. To say I was nervous was an understatement, primarily because I had to do it in front of my fellow students and I was scared of getting it wrong.

I hadn’t really practised my history-taking skills a lot at this point, and I was worried about taking in all the information and not forgetting it. I was also worried about not being able to build a good connection with the patient, something I had been told was really important!

I remember as I was waiting in the consulting room for the patient to arrive thinking: What if I say the wrong thing? What if I misdiagnose the patient? What if they don’t like me?!

In reality, as a second-year Medical Student, the expectations for your first patient interaction are actually a lot lower than you think. At such an early stage the most important quality to show when interacting in a clinical environment is empathy and good communication skills.

You definitely are not expected to be able to diagnose and come up with a cohesive management plan for every patient you see (which is what I had convinced myself of when starting Medical School!) Instead, I focussed on doing what I felt capable of: talking to the patient, listening to them and noting their concerns so I could report them back to the GP.

How to Prepare – Top Tips

How can you prepare for an interaction, when actually you have no idea how it will play out? It’s important to remember that in earlier stages in Medical School, the focus is on ensuring you can communicate effectively and represent the practice in a professional and respectable manner.

My top tips for preparing to meet patients are:

  1. Read the GMC’s Good Medical Practice. This is the holy grail of documents to help you understand how you should act as a practising Medical professional. I recommend it to everyone applying to Medical School, but it’s also a good tool in preparing for those first patient interactions.
  2. Look up how to take a patient’s history. As Doctors, this is our bread and butter; a good history can often allow you to make a diagnosis before any investigations. If you can, do some research on the key aspects of history taking so you have a structure to follow.
  3. Practise. Meet up with your friends and do practice scenarios to gain confidence in how to introduce yourself and the first questions you would ask a patient. For example, “Hi my name is *insert name* and I am an *insert year* year medical student” will eventually be how you introduce yourself to everyone.)
  4. SMILE! You get a lot of brownie points for just being kind and attentive to the patient. Remember, you want to be able to build a good clinician-patient relationship – that isn’t going to happen if you are cold and distant.

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How to Reflect – Top Tips

One of the most important things to do after you have had your first interaction, and every other interaction after that, is to reflect on the experience. In general, you want to think about:

  • How did it make you feel?
  • What went well?
  • What can you improve on next time?
  • What feedback did you receive?

Make sure you write all these reflections down, maybe start a journal, so you can keep track of them and therefore use them to guide interactions later on down the line!

Just make sure you remember that the first interaction you have with a patient is always going to be nerve-wracking. Focus on the positives, like how it’s a good chance to show your natural empathy and communication skills.

You aren’t expected to know the whole of Medicine at that stage, so focus on what you can do: make the patient feel comfortable and listened to, and that will take you a long way!


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