Between Monday, 19th to Thursday, 22nd December 2016, I undertook some exciting work experience at Lincoln County Hospital. After only just coming back from Medlink, I was buzzing to get a first-hand experience of life as a doctor.
Specifically designed for lower sixth form students, this 3.5 day course intended to help us gain an insight into the work a doctor does on a daily basis, and the skills required to undertake challenging tasks. We were also given helpful sessions in small groups on how to perfect our personal statements, and ace the UKCAT/BMAT and interview process; a clinical skills workshop got us taking blood and suturing skin (from fake skin of course!).
On the first day, whilst being given advice on the application process, I found that like Medlink, the idea of empathy and resilience was highly emphasised. It is vital for any potential medical student to understand the ability to have confidence, even when things get difficult, whilst maintaining a healthy work-life balance. Also, don’t be afraid to point out your weaknesses, just be prepared to talk about how you overcame them.
Whilst discussing, we found that there were many different reasons people wanted to apply – the variety in the career, the prospect of discovering new things that may have an impact, the life-long learning process, and having a chance to undertake research and reaching the pinnacle of cutting-edge technology – all these ideas are very good examples to include in your personal statement, as long as you don’t mention the cliché phrase: “I love science and helping people!”.
After this engaging session, we learnt a bit about infection control, by isolating patients to either protect other patients from getting infected (ie. diarrhoea spreading from faeces’ sprays) or to protect the patient from infection (eg. chemotherapy). At the current moment, Clostridium Difficile is roaming around hospitals, which lives in the human bowel and can cause diarrhoea if the ‘good bacteria’ that usually keep it in check are killed off (by antibiotics). It is important, therefore, to observe good hand hygiene by thoroughly washing your hands, to prevent infection spread.
Later on in the afternoon, we visited the operation theatre and got to watch two orthopaedic surgeries! Experiencing the process of anaesthesia and watching the surgeons operate was an amazing first-hand experience to actually learn how doctors manage to stay calm in intense situations, using social interaction, scientific knowledge and practical skills (surgery is a lot like carpentry – the use of drills, saws, hammers and cauters to burn tissue were frequent). One thing that surprised me was the huge role the anaesthetist had to undertake – as well as injecting the patient with the chemicals and muscle relaxants to make them unconscious, their blood pressure (which gets very low), oxygen, CO2 and breathing rate was constantly monitored and recorded throughout. Even though the actual operations were relatively small, with a girl’s toe bones being straightened and a nail being removed from a man’s leg, it was interesting to learn about the standard procedures undertaken – such as using iodine (which immobilises bacteria and viruses on skin) to clean the limb, a tight band to restrict blood flow and hence prevent excessive bleeding during the surgery, and finally making sure I stood behind the a line where dirty air was getting filtered out.
However, the main thing I learnt from this was the idea of having a ‘multidisciplinary team’; I cannot stress enough the significance teamwork had in surgery, whether you were a surgeon or scrub nurse – being able to communicate effectively and having chemistry with your teammates could be between a matter of life and death. Also, as an anaesthetist, empathy is needed as you need to comfort the patient, and act as human as possible! They must let the patient know what they are doing (never take them on by surprise), and if there are any difficulties. Once again, the role of communication will help put the patient at ease, relaxing them and speeding up the process – it also allows you to undertake the procedure safely, and makes sure they’re not in excessive pain or allergic to any damaging substances.
Personal statement and interview
I won’t go into detail here but some tips for the statement (which we learnt on the 2nd day) is to get it checked by people you don’t know on ‘The Student Room’ and use the ‘Medic Portal’ for more advice. Another thing, that some people may overlook, is to have an extra-curricular element just to add interest, and perhaps show off some other unique skills.
For the interview, one thing I would recommend is to familiarise yourself with the ‘Four Pillars of Ethics’ and to look into the idea of ‘capacity’ – whether or not a patient can make decisions. You will be tested on these things, and the interviewer will assess your reasoning for your arguments so perhaps challenge yourself with a few scenarios at home!
Later on in the day, I was assigned to a foundation doctor (F2) in the Medical Assessment Unit (MAU) – an area designated for patients after A&E. From the start of placement, I sensed the stressful and busy atmosphere, with doctors quickly moving from one patient to the next. Quite surprisingly, the F2 I was shadowing had to get through so much paperwork, something that required organisational and management skills to make sure the correct forms were filled in for the patients (listing their medication), ready for their transfer to another ward. Patience and tolerance was a virtue my doctor seemed to have – at one point, she lost all her patient’s details so had to remain calm and resolve the issue. However, it is important to have effective communication and good ICT skills because at one point, due to a senior not informing her of his absence, she ended up having to go around the hospital trying to find someone to sort out a paperwork issue – this unnecessarily lengthened up the process and a patient, who had severe asthma, was forced to wait for her even though she was in considerable pain. When we finally got to this patient, I found that as well as the necessity to consider patient history, you should also have empathy; the husband of the patient was clearly distressed so by making conversation, it was a way of relaxing him, preventing him from panicking his wife. Everything you do as a doctor has a chain reaction – even if it is something little, it could lead to a (hopefully!) positive outcome.
On the 3rd day, as well as watching a GP presentation (did you know that 80% of GPs are female?), which expanded my medical knowledge, we got a taster session in clinical skills, by learning how to take blood from a plastic arm, inserting a cannulation (used to deliver fluids to veins), trying out a peak flow respiratory device and suturing (the art of stitching skin to close up wounds).
Taking Blood using a butterfly needle:
On the 4th day, we discussed the types of medical schools (31 overall) – when deciding where you want to apply, consider the cost of living (London is more expensive), teaching style (PBL, Traditional or Integrated), the application process, the course structure (some universities offer intercalated degrees), location, student satisfication and perhaps even how they teach anatomy. A good website to use is medschools.ac.uk and remember, as a backup, a good option is to take a gap year or do biomedical sciences, as some universities automatically transfer the top students to medicine.
If you’ve managed to get to the end of this post, I hope it was an interesting and helpful read – please comment and rate! Also, if you’re interested in surgery, I will be writing another post about a work experience opportunity I undertook in orthopaedics, where I will go into more detail about the work they do, and the skills I’ve learnt.