Part 2: The Clinical Years
8 AM: Yup, hospital life starts a lot earlier than student life, especially if you’re on a surgical placement (medics usually start at 9) and especially if you’re more than a 5 minute walk away. Rocking up to the morning ward round and introducing yourself to the team is essential at the start of the placement – and the deep-seated terror of the consultant asking you to recall a fact from first year physiology is almost worth it when you get it right. Almost.
This is usually inevitably followed by awkward shadowing time watching the junior doctor doing paperwork because I’m too polite to ask if I can leave. Oh that’s another thing you learn in clinical school – doctors spend a lot of their day doing paperwork. When they’re not saving lives, of course.
10 AM: At Cambridge, there’s a lot of focus early on around taking histories from patients and examining them. This means you spend a lot of time wandering around the wards searching for patients that:
- Are willing and happy to talk to you/haven’t been hounded by too many other students today.
- Have good signs or symptoms – what else will you talk about at the dinner table tonight apart from that new heart murmur you heard?
- Are actually in their bed and not at a CT scan/surgery/procedure/surrounded by visitors.
So this is a lot harder than it sounds. But on the whole, patients will love to talk to you – as a medical student you’re one of the few people in the hospital that can spend a long time with them listening to their story. Make the most of it and you’ll learn loads without even having to open a textbook. And it is so exciting when you hear a new murmur or feel an organ – especially if you spot it!
12 PM: Lunch!
1:30 PM: What you end up doing during your placement all depends on what speciality you’re attached to.
- You might be in clinic, which is great for a rapid turnover of patients with all kinds of signs and getting some one-on-one teaching with the doctor.
- Surgery can be lots of fun, especially if you get to scrub in and actually assist with the operation (the novelty hasn’t worn off yet)!! Make the most of your time by asking questions and being engaged, there’s no point standing in the corner trying to hover over the surgeon’s shoulder. If you can’t see anything, ask for a stool…
- And of course, there’s loads of teaching to cover – you’re still at university after all. This could be lectures, seminars, or practical skills sessions. Skills include taking blood, cannulas, and all sorts – and yes, you’ll do most of them on each other. It’s all about empathy!
5 PM: The end of the working day and hence the end of your day. Clinical school is more flexible than in your undergraduate years, so it’s really up to you how you structure your day in order to make the most of it. Try and follow up what you’ve seen at the hospital with some bookwork in the evenings to really consolidate it and make a bit of a dent in the massive clinical medicine textbook you’ll acquire. Finally putting everything you’ve learnt and applying it to real patients is what you’re here for – so enjoy it!
Due to the fiercely competitive nature of some specialties like surgery, lots of clinical medics do extra things like completing teach the teacher courses to make themselves stand out. “
10 PM: Nights out can be harder to get away with when you have to be on the wards early in the morning… on the plus side, you’ll get your evenings and weekends all to yourself now! And there’s so much to get involved with in clinical school, too. Have fun!