Starting your clinical years can be exciting yet daunting at the same time. For me, I was looking forward to finally putting what I had learned into action. I’m a kinetic learner which means I learn best by trying things out for myself, so assumed I would learn a great deal on the wards. Don’t get me wrong, I did learn a great deal, however, there were several obstacles that I was unprepared for which made my first few months on the wards disappointing.
The first ward I was placed on was the respiratory ward. Patients ranging from those who had severe COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) to those with mild asthma were cared for here. Previous to starting, we were assigned a consultant who would guide and teach us on our placement. Unfortunately for my course mates and I, our consultant was nowhere to be seen for the first few weeks so we were absolutely lost. We were all warned about this happening before we started, but it is still quite difficult to find your feet on the wards for the first time especially if none of the staff are expecting you. So for the first few weeks, I turned up and tried to find something to do, whether it was joining a team for the ward round or sticking to one of the junior doctors, I had to do something to try and be part of the team. Some of the junior doctors were incredibly helpful when it came to showing us the ropes of the ward and teaching us, others not so much but this was expected as of course, junior doctors are very busy people.
We were given a log book by the university and it contained tasks we had to get signed off by a doctor (taking patients’ histories, examinations etc.). This became the bane of my existence and a lot of the time I found myself running around on the ward doing things just to get it signed off because I had left it to the last minute – I don’t advise you do this if you are given a log book because it’s just additional stress you don’t need, plus it defeats the purpose of the log book which is to gradually improve your skills as you undertake each task.
The log book (as annoying as it may have been) was an essential tool that helped me become more proactive on the ward – another tip people give you before starting on the wards. For me, being proactive was harder than I thought. Even though there were plenty of things I could have volunteered to do (clerking patients etc.) I always hesitated out of fear of looking stupid and consequently I missed out on quite a few opportunities. So, my advice to you would be to give things a try regardless because if you succeed, you’ll become more confident and if you fail, you’ll learn something valuable that will hopefully ensure you don’t make the same mistake again, I guess it’s a win-win, right?
The first time I took blood from a patient was a terrifying experience. When I tell you I was shaking, I was SHAKING. Luckily for me, the patient was extremely helpful and instead of me reassuring her, she was reassuring me, which is not how I imagined things to go. I went with one of my classmates, so she could double check I was doing everything thing correctly. I was able to get the blood on my first attempt and I was over the moon. I literally had a smile on my face for the rest of the day. I would soon learn that getting blood on the first attempt does not happen all the time (as disheartening as that is, it happens to everyone and you just need to know what to do in that situation whether its calling a senior for help or finding another vein).
After a few months on placement I became much more confident (I had also changed placement and was now on to general surgery which I LOVED) and I started to feel “like a doctor”. I was taking bloods, taking histories, examining patients and helping out in theatres (Surgery for me is extremely fascinating) as well as other things. I began to enjoy every moment on the wards to the point where I would willingly stay behind till late to see more patients.
What you learn during your clinical years is really up to you. Even if you find yourself in the predicament I was in the first day I started. Ask anyone if you can shadow them and see what they do, whether it’s the junior doctors, nurses or healthcare assistants. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to caring for patients and you are bound to learn something new.
Being on the wards, being part of the team and doing tasks on my own, gave me push I needed, to believe that I could be an amazing doctor. I mean, if they can do it, why can’t I? That was and is my new mindset.
In your first clinical year you will have a lot of “firsts”. First time taking blood, first time doing an ABG (Arterial Blood Gas test), first time certifying a death, first time presenting a case (I had to do all of these with supervision of course!). The main thing is it’s okay to fail, just make sure you learn from your mistakes, and enjoy yourself because the clinical years are the best years!
Written by Racheal Osei