Students often report feeling like a ‘spare part’ or a hassle on the ward, but the good news is: this can be prevented! Introducing yourself early to a variety of staff members (Ward Clerk, Foundation Doctors, Healthcare Assistants, etc) will integrate you better into the workings of the ward. By putting yourself at the forefront of people’s minds, you’re less likely to be forgotten, even when the ward gets extra busy. Not only will this allow you to experience more, but it also shows initiative to those who will be signing you off and providing feedback to your Medical School.
Medical students sometimes fall into the trap of believing they must only accompany Doctors in hospitals to get a complete learning experience. It’s important to know that especially in the earlier years when you’re settling in, lots can be learned from Healthcare Assistants, Pharmacists, Dieticians, Physiotherapists, and a whole host of other HCPs working in the hospital. You shouldn’t rely solely on the Doctors for your learning, because shadowing a range of healthcare professionals and helping with their tasks will benefit your education so much.
Depending on which Medical School you’re at, you can be placed at hospitals far away from where you live. For example, as an Imperial student who lives in Hammersmith, London, I have previously been placed at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, Surrey! Often medical students benefit from shadowing ward rounds, which may start before 9am. To make an early start with a long commute (followed by many hours standing on your feet) bearable and a positive learning experience, adequate sleep is paramount.
Medicine is a very busy degree, and weekdays tend to be filled with lectures from 9am to 5pm. When you start clinical placement, you might find that you have large blank periods in your timetable titled something like ‘ward work’…and you’re left wondering what on earth this means! By introducing yourself to the ward staff at an early stage, you should be in a better position to find out what clinics may be running that day, or you might even be whisked off to observe interesting and relevant procedures to fill the time.
While getting involved and making the most of your time on the ward is crucial, it’s also essential that you don’t try to practise procedures or skills on patients which you have not been trained to do. Doctors and other healthcare professionals are not necessarily aware of your Med School’s curriculum, so they might erroneously ask you to complete a task that you haven’t received adequate training to perform. In this situation, it is okay to politely decline in the name of patient safety.
Working in a secondary care setting can be overwhelming and demanding – and it may feel like there is little time to have a lunch break or even to go to the toilet. Don’t panic! You’re allowed to take a break. Never hesitate to speak with your peers or university support system if this becomes an area of concern for you. Secondary care clinical placements should always provide a positive and constructive learning experience.
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