GP work experience can be one of the most insightful learning opportunities for prospective medical students. This is because you are able to spend around ten minutes observing a clinician-patient interaction, discuss it with the clinician and then do the same with a number of different patients that are presenting with their own unique story. This is bread and butter medicine and that is why it is worth spending time experiencing the world of General Practice.
To secure a placement you need to take initiative, especially if, like me, you do not have any contacts in medicine. I made phone calls to receptionists at different General Practice clinics, introduced myself and asked them “who do I need to speak to if I want to explore the option of shadowing a GP at your clinic?”
Where possible I also sent emails to addresses which can be found on a practice’s website. Whichever way you decide to make contact – make sure to explicitly state that you want to shadow a clinician as part of your work experience.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of practices will not be able to accommodate you but don’t be disheartened. Some may be able to offer places in the summer when local medical students are on holidays. You are more likely to secure a placement if you send a reasonable request. In the first instance ask for half-a-day or two days experience rather than weeks.
So, what was my GP work experience like? I was impressed with the sheer breadth of knowledge that the doctors were versed in. This was important because patients would often present with multiple complaints and a wide array of symptoms and so untangling this information to form clinical decisions was inspiring to observe.
I was also humbled by the respect that doctors showed towards their patients. The ethos of placing the patient at the heart of the consultation was crucial to build that precious doctor-patient relationship. Doctors would spend time really paying attention to what was being said and asking open questions. I could tell that this made patients feel appreciated and comfortable. I mirrored this during my medical school interview in which I had to role-play a teacher interacting with a distressed pupil.
I also learned that medicine can become repetitive. The doctors would counteract this by having varied roles in teaching, research and other areas. Ask the clinician that you a shadowing about their roles and what they like, and dislike, about them. Simple questions such as these can really be the most revealing and useful.
Medical schools want to know that you appreciate and understand the work of allied healthcare professionals. General Practice houses both doctors and nurses. If you are given the chance to shadow a nurse, then take it! Nurses will have in-depth expertise in a particular area of medicine and will often let you sit in on specialist consultations. I was able to do this and it helped me considerably in my interviews because I had first-hand experience of the distinct role of some nurses and how it compares to the work of GPs.
Finally, make sure to write lots of notes during and after your GP work experience. Reflect on them to find out what you learned about medicine and how this has convinced you to peruse it as a career.
Words: Asaad Qadri
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