15 Things to Do with Your Spare Time on the Wards - MedicGuild

15 Things to Do with Your Spare Time on the Wards

Jun 11, 2020

Written by Sarah Butler

Sarah is a 5th year medical student at Monash University
There's always plenty of spare time on the wards, and yet too often, medical students find themselves bored or they go home early when there's nothing to do. When teaching is cancelled, the ward rounds are finished, or your team is busy writing notes - there's always opportunities to keep learning before you call it a day. Here's a list of 15 activities to help you make the most of the spare moments - be it just 5 minutes or a couple of hours.

5 to 10 Minutes

1. Study some flashcards (or make yourself new ones)

Websites such as Quizlet, Memrise and Anki have an abundance of ready-made flashcards made by fellow medical students that are a quick and easy way to revise. Anatomy, differential diagnoses and antibiotics are a great place to start!

Prefer to study your own content? How about making your own flashcards on the conditions that you've seen today or on the anatomy of an upcoming surgery?

2. Practice multiple choice questions

Multiple choice questions (MCQs) are a great way to prepare for exams, and are easy to do on the wards. PassMedicine, PasTest, Amboss and Osmosis have useful phone apps, or if you'd prefer there are plenty of MCQ books from the library. As an added bonus, if there are any answers that you don't understand, you're in a great place to get instant help.

3. Test your colleagues

Usually there's more than one medical student on a ward round, and if there’s a quiet moment, why not use it to test each other? Asking each other questions can be a great way to revise current content and benefit from someone else's additional knowledge and experiences.

4. Medication charts

Assessing medication charts are a great way to revise your pharmacology knowledge. Familiarising yourself with both trade and generic drug names, looking up those medications you don't know and revising dosage requirements are a few ways to test yourself on important content-- knowledge that will only get more important as you approach your internship!

5. Make a list for future revision

If you don't have the time to look something up now, why not make a list of all the conditions or medications you saw today to study later? Keeping a list can keep you accountable for revision, but can also be really useful when you return to the same patients tomorrow.

20 Minutes

6. Practice your procedural skills

The best way to improve practical clinical skills is of course, to keep practicing. But these opportunities sometimes require a bit of initiative.

Ask your team, or nurses whether you can help with a venipuncture, cannulation, catheterisation or injections. Often there's a certain time of day that these procedures are done, so ask around!

Certain wards will also perform more procedures than others, so be willing to try a few different locations such as the surgical wards, day procedure units and the emergency department.

7. Take a history (or turn it into an OSCE)

There's always room to improve history-taking skills particularly for new or complex cases. If you want to mix it up, ask a doctor or nurse on the ward for an interesting patient or get a fellow student to make you an OSCE where you only get a patients' presenting complaint and 8 minutes to take a history.

8. Practice a handover

Learning how to perform a good clinical handover is an important skill for internship and beyond. If you've already taken a history, practice presenting the case to someone on your team and get their feedback on how you could improve. Alternatively, get to the wards early and take a new patient's history before the team does their rounds, and then present the case when the time is appropriate.

9. Look over radiology or bloods

Between patients or when ward rounds are over, there is a great opportunity to practice interpreting images or blood results. Being able to quickly identify pathology is a useful skill to have, and being on the wards is also a great place for feedback if a doctor is free, or to use a patient’s notes to link the pathology to their clinical context.

10. Practice your examination skills

History taking and examinations are the bread and butter of medicine, and students should always look to practice and refine these skills. For examinations, try practicing a system you are less familiar with (haematology or renal, for example) and get a fellow student to watch and pick up on things you might have missed. If you find a patient with a good pathology, test your friend examining the same patient (and get them to do the same for you).

1+ Hours

11. Seek out another specialist to shadow

There are a lot of specialties that students get limited exposure to in medical school, and yet they offer lots of opportunities for learning.

Whilst it might seem a little intimidating, wandering down to the radiology department or theatre and introducing yourself, it's the best place to start. If you’re nervous, consider bringing a friend along for the learning too! These specialists are often more than happy to let you spend some time shadowing them and offer plenty of teaching for your initiative.

In particular, shadowing radiologists and anaesthetists can be a great way to practice image interpretation or see surgical theatres from a different perspective.

12. Outpatient clinics

An often overlooked source of learning is outpatient clinics, which run at all times of the day. Ask if your current team is part of any outpatient clinics, what times they run and whether you can sit in. Consider asking other teams whose clinics you also might want to attend. These are often a great place to practice history and examination skills with direct feedback.

13. Pick one examination to improve on

To learn to identify 'abnormal' we must first be familiar with 'normal.' Practicing a series of cardiovascular exams, for example, can allow you to listen to heart sounds one after another and improve your ability to identify murmurs.

Similarly, performing back-to-back respiratory examinations can be a great way to improve your identification of lung pathology. Check your findings against patient notes once you've finished each examination to see if you missed anything!

14. Practice with your peers

If you truly feel there is nothing further for you to do on the wards at a point in time, why not practice your history or examination skills on your peers? Find a spare doctor's office, common room or tutorial space to refine your techniques and hopefully develop your confidence when performing these skills in front of a consultant in the future. Oscer has hundreds of sample cases you can use as a guide.

15. Discharge summaries

Particularly for students in their later clinical years, offering to help write discharge summaries can be a great way to be of use to your team. Interns write a staggering number of discharge summaries, so picking up this skill early can be of great benefit.


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