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How to Get the Most Out of Your Clinical Placements
  • 15 Dec 2016
  • Medical School

By Leeds Med Student Sammie Mak.

If you have just set foot into your third year at medical school and are therefore starting your clinical years, here are just a few tips and tricks to help you feel more comfortable in a completely new environment.

Get out there and get yourself known

If you are proactive enough, the people on the ward will sense your enthusiasm and will essentially be handing you learning opportunities. Initially when you get there, you can let the nurses know what you want to do or see. Then when the right situation arises, they will go and find you so that you can participate as well. The same goes with the junior doctors and the consultants. It is great practice to establish with your supervisor what you want to get from the placement and what the placement expects of you at the beginning.

Scheduled teaching

When you arrive on the first day of a new placement, you will probably be given a timetable for your next couple of weeks and there will most likely be some teaching sessions scheduled for you (or a group of you). Make sure that you are clear on where and who it is that you will be meeting. Occasionally, someone might not have turned up.

Firstly, wait fifteen minutes. They may be caught up in something and are simply running late, so give them a bit of time.


If after fifteen minutes they still have not appeared, do not just leave! Ask someone, for instance the nurse on the ward or the medical education co-ordinator who put your timetable together. They should be able to contact your 'teacher' for you, whether it is via a bleep or telephone number.

'Ward work'

Often your timetable will have 'ward work' enlisted as well. At first, this term seems very vague but please do not interpret it as 'free time'. The more you stay on the wards, the more comfortable you will feel in such a setting, so it will seem easier when you actually graduate from medical school and have to work as a foundation year doctor.

There is so much that you can do such as talking to patients, taking a history from them and practising some examinations (with the patient’s consent and supervision and/or chaperone if required). Also, take the chance to accompany patients to their tests and scans, because the more you know about their experiences, the better care you can provide for your future patients.

After ward rounds, foundation doctors are likely to have a list of jobs that need to be completed by the end of the day. Maybe to your surprise, you will find that you can help out with a lot of the tasks. I strongly advise you to offer to help. Some of the tasks will be practical skills such as blood taking or cannulation, which you will want to perfect before your OSCEs anyway.

Note: Make sure that someone is aware of what you are about to do and that it is in line with the trust rules and regulations. Also, ensure that you are confident in yourself and NEVER do anything that you feel is out of your competency. If someone has told you to do something but you feel uneasy, DO NOT do it.

Increase your exposure

After a few years of clinical sciences and anatomy, you are expected to be able to interpret basic test results including plain films, CTs, blood results and many more.  Just try and familiarise yourself with the common tests that are requested and what you need to look out for.

Another big thing to really concentrate on is the patient’s drug chart. You will quickly learn which drugs are commonly prescribed, their indications, route of administration and so on. Some universities have a prescribing station in their OSCEs too so it is vital that you know how to fill in a drug chart.

Revise together

Each medical school has their own way of organising placement groups and there is a possibility that you are placed 'alone' in an unfamiliar hospital. However, there will be other students there too. They may be in another year or even from another medical school. This is a great opportunity to meet some new people and you might learn something new from them that you were never exposed to.

Let someone know if you are having problems

If you are finding the transition from campus life to placement life difficult, you do not have to suffer in silence. You can talk to your medical school about your concerns. After all, your welfare is their main priority, so rest assured that they will take time to listen to you. If it is the clinical aspect that is troubling you, try speaking to the junior doctors on your ward, because they are the ones to have been through this the most recently. Talking to your peers will help as well because everyone is at the same stage and in the same boat.

Finally, you get out of it what you put in - I cannot stress this point enough. As my first point highlighted, put yourself out there! Most importantly, enjoy your placements, because they’re supposed to be fun and engaging. As a student, you are in the safest and most protected environment to learn, so utilise this opportunity well as it only comes once.

  • 15 Dec 2016
  • Medical School