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How to make the most of your first clinical placement

So your first placement is looming, it's all been academic up until now! It's time to see some real-life patients and spend some time in the real world and learn how to be a doctor!

It might seem scary but placement is one of the most valuable things you'll do in medical school, so it's important to make the most of it!

Tip 1: Turn up!

Your first placement is often a radically different working environment to your previous time at university. You might have spent a lot of your time in lectures, tutorials and doing small group work.

Placement exposes you to a unique learning environment that can sometimes be chaotic and overwhelming especially as you are just finding your feet and trying to absorb as much information as possible.

Placement is essentially a practice run for employment as a doctor.

Even if there isn't a specific activity or place you are scheduled to be, there is always something or someone worth seeing in hospital so it's always worth turning up to find some opportunities for learning.

Tip 2: Find your supervisor

Know who your supervisor is and try to make contact with them right at the very beginning of placement. Find out your supervisor's timetable, e.g. what clinics they do on what days – so you can make the most of spending time with them.

Usually, you are sent your supervisors contact details through your medical school administrator. If not, consultants usually have a secretary who will know their exact whereabouts and be able to guide you! You can generally find a consultant's secretary via the hospital switchboard or by asking other team members.

Top tip - You might like to research your supervisor, who is often a senior consultant, and see what their specialist areas are. Showing interest in these areas will help your supervisor cater any teaching or activities towards your personal development needs.

This is exactly how you would approach your Educational/Clinical Supervisors when you newly graduate too so it's good to get into the habit now!

Tip 3: Shadow an FY1

You will be a Foundation Year 1 (FY1) doctor soon enough, and spending time with a doctor in their first year or so will give you a whole new, very real, perspective on clinical medicine, what life is actually like as an doctor and how to survive your first job.

Following a consultant is all well and good, but when you qualify, you won't be chairing MDTs or performing 6-hour surgeries – you'll be running around the wards siting cannulas and prescribing anti-emetics – so shadow these tasks!

Being "on-call" with a junior doctor is particularly useful as this is often the most fast-paced time as a doctor. You'll get to see lots of patients and perform all the tasks you'll be expected to do in just a few years' time!

Tip 4: Study on the go

Bring study materials with you. There can be "downtime" as a student, where doctors are busy doctor-ing, and there's maybe not much interesting stuff to be doing – make sure you're not sitting doing nothing!

Bring revision materials with you, and use any spare 10 minutes to look up a condition you saw on the ward round, revise the dosing of an antibiotic, or swot up on your vascular anatomy. Regular revision is the secret to passing finals!

Downloading the Quesmed app ensures you always have revision resources such as our question bank, at your fingertips – and we're available offline too so you can still use the app even when connected to the ever-questionable NHS wifi!

Tip 5: Be proactive

As a medical student, you're already equipped with many useful skills for the hospital environment. For example, offer to perform observations for the nursing staff, help the phlebotomist on their rounds, grab the NEWS chart for each patient on the ward round, porter a patient to their x-ray, and phone the laboratory.

Although these opportunities might seem "boring" and possibly not technically your job when you become a doctor, they make you very much part of the "team" and give you a better understanding of how the whole hospital system works.

For the more assessment driven among you, lots of seemingly "simple" tasks like taking observations often come up in your end of year OSCEs!

Tip 6: Take notes

For example, if you're attending a ward round, keep a brief (anonymised) list of patients and presentations you've seen. You can refer back to this later and explore the presentation as part of your revision. It's often easier to remember the ins and outs of a condition when you can relate to a real patient. Bring a small notepad with a hardback so you can write "on the go", or take your phone with you to note down important points.

Tip 7: Practice!

Medical student placements are a place to practice everything you're learning and become a natural at those OSCE/CPSA stations! Examine patients, take histories, and perform tasks such as venepuncture and cannulation. Many hospital patients are bored and welcome the opportunity to share their stories with someone. It's also useful to examine a "surprise" patient where you don't already know the examination findings! This will give you confidence in your diagnostic abilities and become super confident when it comes to OSCE exams.

Use Quesmed's OSCE/CPSA platform to revise the points to visit in a particular station before seeing a patient, or even team up with a colleague and find a patient who will allow you to practice, with mark sheets and all!

Tip 8: See patients!

See as many patients as possible! You want to become a natural at speaking to patients from all walks of life, with all types of conditions. Ask a senior doctor if they can observe you speaking to or examining a patient - or ask if you may present a patient on the ward round or to the consultant. You'll pick up tips and tricks and the important things not to miss for specific presentations.

Tip 9: Enjoy!

Enjoy the experience! Placement is fun, fast-paced and often the best learning experience in medical school.

Placement may seem daunting, but it's often the most high-yield learning experience on your journey to becoming a doctor.

Hopefully you now feel a little more prepared and know how to make the most out of your first hospital placement.

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