How to 'ACE' clinical placements

Pastest's Newcastle University medical school rep, Rebecca Hand, offers some thoughtful advice on how to approach your clinical placements. 

Starting clinical placements in your third year of medical school is always a scary process. What am I supposed to know? Where do I go? I know I felt this way last year and wanted to share some things I have learned in the last 18 months so that I can make the most out of my time on placements. I've helpfully laid it out in a nice little acronym so you can 'ACE' your placements.

Ask for help

We aren’t expected to know everything as a medical student, we are still learning the ropes. An important thing to remember is everyone has been in the same position as you, no matter how many years ago it was. Staff are for the most part more than happy to answer questions you may have, show you where to go or help you learn a new skill. I still ask for help every day I’m on placement, especially with moving hospitals this year from Durham to Middlesbrough.

The more you ask, the more you will learn and the more you are going to feel like part of a team. At the end of the day, medicine relies on teamwork so the better you communicate work with colleagues, the better you will perform as a clinician.

Complete sign-offs ASAP

We have lots of mandatory skills we need to get signed off. Blood taking, cannulation, swabs etc. Don’t leave it all to the last moment or like me, you will be on your last day of placement on a 12-hour shift in the maternity ward hoping someone needs a cannula.

You have so many opportunities to do these skills and foundation doctors will be more than happy to supervise you. Ask any member of staff if they have any jobs on their to-do list you could help with. If anything, you may take some work off their hands!

Embed your learning with real patients

Patients have the conditions you’re learning about? Who knew! Linking the conditions you learn about to real patients you see onwards and in GP will help to consolidate your learning and cement it in your head for exams. Writing up cases and using Pastest to do practice questions on the conditions will further embed the knowledge and put you in the best position for excelling in written exams.

For example, on my GP placement, I have seen a patient with COPD, written up the case as a required panel patient for my course, and subsequently completed practice questions to ensure I understand the condition.

There are so many amazing opportunities that you will get whilst on placements which are going to help you decide which specialties excite you. Seize every opportunity you get offered; go to theatre, take bloods, help deliver that baby. Remember though, be kind to yourself, self-care days are equally as important to avoid burnout.

At Newcastle, in our third year we have placements on a variety of medical and surgical wards for the first semester and then on Obs and Gynae, Paediatrics, and Psychiatry in the second semester. The shift from adult medicine that you are more familiar with to some of the more vulnerable and sensitive patients in a hospital takes some adjustment. I found that asking as many questions to whichever staff member I was shadowing helped me to learn quick and feel most at ease.

Now I am in my fourth year I am based in clinics which is a very different setting to a ward. I have so far found that asking to see patients before consultants to practice my history and examination skills has been the most beneficial thing to do. Presenting my findings back when possible has helped me to learn what I have to improve on as well.

I hope this has helped some of you to feel more comfortable starting clinical placements. Good luck!


Rebecca Hand, 4th year medical student at Newcastle University

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