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Medical School Clinical Placements

Medical School Clinical Placements

by , 24 October, 2017
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As a medical student, I see too many of my colleagues misusing their opportunity at Clinical Placements. Your time as a medical student, allocated to each different clinical placement, is invaluable because you have open access with less responsibility than other health professionals on the team. Ideally, your time placed at clinical sites (hospitals, hospices, field-work, general practitioner’s offices and more) should be spent experientially; being like the doctor.

I’d like to be able to enhance your experience in clinical placements, by engaging more and learning what it’s like to not only work like a doctor but also learn like a doctor.

Too often, I observe fellow medical students allocating their unscheduled time to ‘study’ in the library or clinical school common rooms. Some students write notes, some make topic summaries and others engage in group discussions. Whatever your study style, that’s cool, but leave it for another time; your allocation to clinical site is invaluable and should be spent actually participating in the daily work in the hospital! The best way to learn is by experiencing how each clinical presentation is managed in the office, clinic, emergency department, wards or in surgery. There is nothing like actually doing it.

Commitment and participation truly pays off. Anecdotally, students who engage regularly in the everyday work of junior doctors (interns, residents) and registrars report higher levels of satisfaction from their time in medical school. This is likely because these students are those who have gained the trust of their doctors and are able to confidently speak to patients, write succinct and understandable notes, help compose discharge summaries, attending team meetings, and are frequently asked to assist in theatre both with basic and more challenging procedures. Assisting your team in duties that may not seem immediately relevant to you (such as writing a discharge summary), not only gains you the respect of your team’s nursing and medical staff, but reinforces the knowledge you’re currently learning. By truly engaging with what it’s actually like to work as a doctor, you feel like one too.

And the great new is that you’ll likely get better marks too! Again, anecdotally, Deans of Clinical Schools frequently report that it’s clearly identifiable which students have participated regularly in their allocated clinical placements, and capitalised on their unscheduled time. These are the students who excel in their Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) because their history-taking and examination skills are almost automatic; they’ve done it before and they’ll do it well again. Furthermore, these are the students who have observed both basic and complex case management. These students who have actively spent time participating as part of a team, can more confidently answer difficult questions in written examinations by combining their clinical placement experience with knowledge from books and guidelines.

My time in each clinical placement, or rotation, has been highly enjoyable because I have been a trusted member of the treating team. I have done the hard yards, turned up early, stayed late and helped with both mundane and extraordinary cases. I am not only pleased with my performance in formal assessment in medical school but I am more confident in myself as a future doctor to manage a diverse array of clinical presentations. I am more likely to remember, how and what to do, because I have actually observed or done it before.

Although for now you may only be worried about GAMSAT® Exam, GAMSAT® Exam preparation or the best choice for a GAMSAT® Exam preparation course, I implore you to keep my advice in mind in your future years as a medical student. Please make the most of your allocations to hospital and community health care rotations. Nothing beats experience. And you’ll make a better, more likely to succeed, doctor for it as well.