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27. February 2018 Le Thu Tran

Hospital placements? You’re only a first-year medic!

Yes, you read it right. I have only started my course not even half a year ago and the university has already sent me on a 2-week hospital placement. I was put in both of the Sheffield teaching hospitals – I spent the first week in the Royal Hallamshire Hospital (RHH) and the second in the Northern General Hospital (NGH). This was the first time I saw the hospital setting “from the other side” and I can confirm that I enjoyed my new role as a medic much more than my usual role of a sick patient. What did I do on my placements? Well, I am glad you asked…

First week was a nursing placement which I mostly spent shadowing the sisters and nurses of the Day Case Centre in the RHH. The daily schedule of this specialty goes like this: first, morning admissions during which the nurses check all the patients’ details, secondly, doctors explain all the surgical procedures and gain consent from the patient who then undergoes the operation. Thirdly, the nurses look after them in the recovery unit and finally, when the patient is fully conscious and all the paperwork is signed off, they can go home (often during the same day). The nurses let me take medical histories, measure the vital signs (blood pressure, temperature and oxygen saturation levels) and write all the information down in the charts. As I was the only medical student on this specialty, I had to initiate all the opportunities myself and as a result, I had the chance to shadow an anaesthetist, observe patients when they woke up after an operation and see a cataract surgery. Since it is a surgical centre, all staff is required to wear scrubs which I was given in the morning of each day. Unfortunately, one day they did not have my size (S) and I had to wear the only available sizes (L, XL). You can probably picture how ridiculous I looked – indeed, the station nurses made fun of me in the kindest sense of humour possible. They even said the patients will not take me seriously in such baggy clothes (do not worry, the patients still respected me).
As for the second week, I was sent to the gastroenterology department of the NGH together with ten other medics. The consultant, who was supposed to look after us, forgot about this commitment (he was in a clinic) so the beginning of this week was rather chaotic. Just imagine it: you work on a very busy ward and suddenly, you also have eleven lost medical students to look after! We eventually solved the problem ourselves by splitting into twos and threes and shadowing different hospital staff – foundation doctors, occupational therapists or physiotherapists. Each morning we came for a ward round where we received a rough overview of what happened during the night and what has to be done during the day. I had an opportunity to see some procedures as well, namely gastroscopy and colonoscopy. What I enjoyed the most though, was definitely observing consultations. The consultant always gave us a quick brief of the patient’s condition and which symptoms we might be able to observe. When the patient came, we sat silently in the corner of the room and listened carefully to everything that was said. After the patient left, the doctor asked us what we had learnt from that visit and answered all the burning questions we had. He then ended our shadowing session by discussing ethical issues in medicine – confidentiality, breaching of sensitive information and consent.
As a conclusion, I would like to summarize what I learnt from these two weeks:
1) Patients respected me even though I was “only” a medical student (and were very talkative when I took their medical history)
2) It is advantageous if you know the hierarchy of different hospital positions (e.g. how the rights between nurses and doctors differ)
3) Do not be afraid to admit when you do not know something (people learn from their own mistakes, right?)
4) 8-hour work days starting from 7 am are quite tough (I fell asleep at 6pm twice just because I was utterly exhausted)
5) Surgical hats do not suit me at all
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