Preparing for Life at Medical School: Clinical Years Advice

As you make the monumental transition from classroom years to clinical years, we wanted to make sure you are prepared, by equipping you with all the knowledge needed to thrive within this next stage of your studies. You’re at a time where you will experience a drastic change in learning style and will practically be working a full time job only for you to be paid in terms of experience. You will be challenged with more responsibility and will have the opportunity to treat real patients, where many of the cases you witness very rarely go by the book. The two main purposes of clinical training are to learn how to actually take care of patients by putting into practise all you’ve been taught thus far and to help you develop your professional identity as a doctor. So get ready for this great learning curve to say the least as you’re one step closer to becoming a doctor.  Here is a list of all our tips and advice:

Be Proactive

  • If there are specific things you want to achieve, make your interests known, be vocal. This is your opportunity to experience multiple specialities so make the most of it. Be confident and do not be afraid to ask questions. Take the opportunities presented to you and use them as a chance to practise necessary skills.

Interact with patients

  • It is incredibly important for you to build rapport with your patients, patient interaction is a large component of medicine and it is better you develop this skill sooner rather than later. Spending extra time with your patients to learn something new or valuable about them is essential in understanding how to interact with different types of personalities and more about the patients condition. Each patient interaction provides you with the ability to learn something new, if you pay attention and make the most of any free time you may have.

Interact with healthcare professionals & show respect 

  • Building good relationships with your seniors is crucial, Foundation Year 1 doctors tend to be really helpful as they are fresh out of medical school and have a good idea of what standard you should be at and are a great source of tips and advice. Be sure to ask for regular feedback, your strengths, areas you need to improve and suggestions on how can improve yourself. Building rapport with senior doctors can also provide you with many opportunities in research or placements and you additionally ask for letters of recommendation/ references.

Strike a good balance between passing exams and “learning to be a doctor”, as well as book work and ward work.

  • Your workload is set to increase so it is extremely important not to neglect your book work. Equally do not neglect your clinical skills, hence why it is important to find the right balance to ensure you excel in each aspect. Keep both the immediacy of your exams and your future job as a doctor when you’re deciding what to learn.

Listen and take notes 

  • We strongly suggest that you carry a small notebook and a pen with you to record things that interest you. Make notes on things you’ve seen in clinical situations, preferably some time during the same week; medical facts stick in your mind easier when you can link them to a real human being that you’ve seen. Write down your experiences, any questions you may have or extra knowledge regarding your learning outcomes. By recording a variety of things, you can look back in the future and acknowledge and appreciate your professional and personal growth.

Know your goals

  • It is highly beneficial to know what you’re working towards, find out exactly what you need to have done/ achieved by the end of the placement.  Knowing what is expected and how you will be assessed is very important and means that there are no distasteful surprises further down the line. Moreover, ensure you have determined what you personally want to gain from the placement, e.g: becoming better at taking histories or becoming more confident at a skill for example; taking bloods. Once you have established your own personal goals, think about how you can achieve these goals and then go for it!

Read around cases you witness/ your patients conditions

  • This is a great way for you to impress your senior colleagues, consolidate your knowledge and feel more confident when on ward rounds. Even after a long, busy day aim to study at least an hour a day; set a reading goal/ daily reading assignment and establish an organised structure of topics you need to cover. Reading around cases you encounter will enable you to answer any questions asked by your senior and when presenting your patients’ cases be clear, concise and precise. Read your patients  medical histories, physician notes and review labs and other diagnostics tests. 

Do not expect every doctor to be a teacher or to teach you well 

  • Remember you are working in a high stress, fast-paced environment so not every doctor will be able to fully explain every situation to you or answer your questions immediately. Not every doctor is trained to teach so learn to be self-sufficient. It is also important to read your environment, try not to get in the way at the wrong time and help where you can;  you may be dealing with a life or death situation and you do not want to obstruct and slow the team down.

Keep a balanced life

  • Make sure your entire life does not revolve around medicine, do not neglect any stress-relieving activities you have developed over the years, enjoying life is equally as important as enjoying medicine. Life can become a whirlwind and get very busy but make sure that you make time for the important people in your life and your hobbies. Having non-medic friends is beneficial as they can keep you in the real world, help take your mind of medicine for a period of time and make your life more well-rounded as a whole. This will help you maintain your sanity during the most stressful times and is a very important skill to hone so you can carry it with you into your future career.

Be aware of your abilities 

  • As important as it is to be confident in your abilities and trust that your medical school’s curriculum will have prepared you for your clinical training do not overestimate your abilities. Understand your strengths and limitations because overestimating your abilities may potentially put the patient in danger, which is what we intend to avoid at all costs. It is perfectly acceptable to let your supervisors know what you don’t understand, feel free to ask questions and request for help with things you are unsure about or don’t know. Your teachers and supervisors are aware of how early you are into training and that different students progress at different rates.

Be interested in all aspects of Medicine

  • It’s easy to have your heart set on one aspect on Medicine, you may already know what speciality you want to pursue but this shouldn’t mean that you act uninterested or less enthusiastic to certain fields of medicine. The more interested and consistent you are and the more willing you are do tasks assigned to you, the more opportunities you’ll most likely have to perform or watch procedures. This will give you the chance to increase your confidence and your skills, so make the most of your varied experience. Remember, as a future doctor you will care for patients with illnesses not confined to one discipline. The more open you are to learning, the better doctor you will become and the more you put into something, the more you will get out of it. 

Always be on hand to help

  • View every situation as an opportunity to learn so don’t just stand back and watch, get involved. Volunteer to do more, put yourself forward and ask how you can help frequently; if your supervisors see how enthusiastic you are they will be more likely to allow you to do procedures and invite you to do them more often. Do not hide in the back during a procedure or a patient exam. Take every opportunity presented to perform procedures, assist where you can and learn from each experience.

Know what is expected of you by speaking to older years or your senior

  • Medical students who have already completed their clinical rotations will have invaluable advice.  Write down and ask them every question you might have and set up a time to learn the ins-and-outs of rotations. Sometimes hearing too many people’s opinions of  what materials to use and how you can succeed in the rotation may be a little overwhelming but do not let this intimidate you. Remember to be early, this can give you the chance to review charts, get some extra studying done and organise your day, showing your dedication to the job. In Addition, do not forget to be professional at all times, conveying a professional attitude is important for a medical student as you will be viewed as an expert in the eyes of the patients. Dress professionally, always be neat and avoid using your phone. Lastly, be prepared, always carry pens and review your patients’ charts thoroughly. 

Don’t be too hard on yourself/ Don’t be scared

  • You are not expected to know everything or get everything right as a medical student, now is the time to learn. Mistakes will be made, when a mistake is made, it is your supervisors responsibility to provide you with constructive criticism , correct you and explain how such mistakes can be avoided in the future. It is part of the learning process. Don’t take too many things personally. When you start to feel stressed, keep in mind that rotations last a short time and may take some getting used to. You will find that each discipline of medicine has its own way of doing things. 

 

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