Medical work experience can be a particularly daunting time for students. You’re in a bustling hospital, seeing things more inspiring and more upsetting than you could ever have imagined, surrounded by medical professionals who do it every day.
You may feel completely out of your depth, a fish out of water – but don’t worry, this is entirely normal and nobody will think any less of you if this is the case!
However, to help you feel a little more comfortable, I’ve put together a list of questions that you might like to ask on placement which I hope will in turn make the experience more informative and enjoyable.
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With so many medical specialties out there, it’s quite usual for medical students to have no concrete idea of the career path they might like to follow in the future.
However, I’ve often found that chatting to doctors in various departments during placements has been an extremely useful way of broadening my awareness of the options available.
If you find a spare half hour during your placement, maybe during a lunch break, sit down and have an informal chat with some of the doctors in your department. Ask them why they decided to pursue their current specialty, what they enjoy about it, how long it took to train… see where the conversation takes you!
2. What do you enjoy/not enjoy about being a doctor?
Most people undertake work placements during sixth form, either to help them decide whether to apply for a medical degree or, if they’ve already decided to apply to study Medicine, to evidence more clinical experience in an existing application. It’s so important to make an informed decision when applying to study Medicine.
It’s very easy to obtain a skewed understanding of what it’s actually like to work in a hospital by watching popular TV shows, or by reading inspirational books about heroic medical acts, while the reality can be quite different.
Ask the doctors in your department to be honest with you about what it’s really like to work in the medical world. This will definitely help you to decide whether Medicine really is the career for you!
3. What advice would you give me on applying to Medicine?
While the application process and medical degree itself may have changed slightly over the years, certain key elements will have remained the same.
No matter how long ago they completed their studies, any doctor you speak to on placement will remember how tough the process can be, and will be more than happy to offer any advice they can on the subject.
Obviously no two people will have had exactly the same experience, so you might find that different doctors give slightly varying, maybe even contradictory, advice, but I always found that any insight into the mysterious world of medical school was better than none!
For more up to date information, seek out junior doctors in your department – they’ve gone through the process most recently and may be better equipped to answer any questions you may have.
4. What advice would you give me on surviving medical school?
Continuing on a similar theme, the doctors that you meet on placement will have all made it through the many years of medical school and survived to tell the tale – who better to ask for advice on doing the same?
Again, no two medical schools are exactly the same, therefore details may vary, but all doctors will be able to offer valuable advice on subjects such as maintaining a healthy work-life balance, coping with a heavy workload, and adjusting to a whole new style of learning.
As previously mentioned, junior doctors will have completed the degree most recently, therefore will potentially be able to offer the most relevant information on specific course details.
5. Hello, I’m a student on work experience… would it be alright if I came along?
While it is very useful to use your time on placement to gain advice from doctors on the topics considered above, it is also crucial to make the most of this relatively limited time in a clinical environment.
The most important thing is to be proactive. You may have been assigned to a specific doctor or consultant for your time on placement, but there will be times when they’re busy, or are called away urgently.
If you’re in a hospital setting, there will be plenty of other doctors around who will be more than happy to let you observe their work, as long as you ask permission first.
Make yourself known to the ward staff – hospitals are busy places, and they’ll be more likely to let you know if there’s an interesting surgery going on down the hallway if they know your name.
Ask questions if there’s any terminology you don’t understand; be confident to take part in discussions if you’re encouraged to. Nobody will mind if you get things wrong; nobody expects you to know the answers! I was always told that the best work placement students were those who ‘gave it a go’ – you won’t learn anything from the experience if you stand silently in the corner of a room for two weeks!
Work experience can be very overwhelming at first; you’ll probably go home totally exhausted on the first day. But it can also be one of the most rewarding and exciting things you’ve ever done… at least until you become a doctor for real!