The life of a student completing placements might seem quite routine. I wake to an annoying alarm tone, brush my teeth and in a rush, grab a handful of muesli bars before heading to the hospital. However, there are moments that make the day both interesting and challenging.
There are many different wards in a hospital and each ward is run differently. As a medical student doing clinical placements or work experience, my general role is to be part of the treating team.
Doctors unfortunately like to start their days quite early with a check-up of all the patients on the ward. I follow the consultant and the team of doctors trying to absorb as much knowledge as possible. We look at x-rays, talk to patients, read a few treatment guidelines and look at blood results.
During these check-ups and under supervision, I have the opportunity to make decisions about a patient's condition, progress and medication. This is usually where the medical team reviews the progress of the patient. The patient has a chance to discuss any queries or concerns with the treating team during the round. These rounds happen day in, day out and I try to learn everything I think I can about being a doctor.
In most cases I write the medical notes and often do minor procedures when the opportunity presents itself. Occasionally I have the chance to participate in surgery and present cases to senior doctors. This can be quite stressful as they criticise you, but it is a great learning tool used in our teaching.
Depending on the ward I am placed on, I also get the chance to liaise with physiotherapists, occupational therapists and other clinicians about patient care. The day would not be complete without caffeine. On some days, too much caffeine.
Clinical placement challenges
Medical school is neither as comic as it seems on the television sitcoms nor as dramatic. But there are moments during placement that make me question my decisions. When I see a patient for the first time, whether with the team or by myself, there are many questions that I must ask in order to make the correct decision. Some conditions are straightforward whereas others are tricky and require further investigations.
Finding time to balance work and lead a social life can be challenging when you do clinical placements as the hours can be long and expectations high.
There are health conditions that have a bad outcome and informing the patient or their family can be very emotionally charged. This requires increased confidence, empathy and great skill to deliver the news while being sensitive to the wishes of the patient. I think the most challenging of these moments are when you are asked to report back your findings to a senior doctor. They usually ask you tricky questions which require fast thinking and not knowing the answers can be daunting at times.
Specific challenges for me
I have been lucky that my own chronic condition is now well controlled after correct diagnosis and long-term treatment. I have a genetic illness called Familial Mediterranean Fever that causes severe abdominal pain. During my earlier years of placements I would suffer bouts of pain that would render me bedridden and unable to attend. I would miss out on days of learning that I then had to catch up on.
Because of my health condition I have a deeper understanding of illnesses with recurrent pain and carefully consider the patient's situation. Because my condition is triggered by stressful situations, I fear exam times and have had a hard time during them in the past. I have had to adopt diverse techniques to de-stress and approach exams in a strategic manner. Thankfully my exams are over and I can relax. Well at least for now. I will have specialty exams to go through in a few years time.