Pragmatic Tips for Surviving Your First Clinical Year
Congratulations! You’ve made it. Despite a global pandemic, you have finished your preclinical studies, and are hopefully allowed on the wards this year. This is where the fun begins. Taking blood, clerking patients, assisting in surgeries – we get to play doctor without any of the legal repercussions (and sadly also without any of the financial benefits). But how can you make the most of this part of your medical journey? And more importantly, how can you not just survive, but thrive, in this new environment? Below are handy tips that shall make this year noticeably comfortable for you, and hopefully assist in the prevention of the dreaded burnout that sadly affects many of our peers.
Get Good Shoes
First and foremost, this is the key to success on the wards. All the weight and responsibility of being a medical student travels through the hips, down the legs, and into your shoes. You will be spending a lot of time vertical this year, so investing in a pair of shoes that offer support is essential.
Do not get a cheap pair from Target or Kmart. Invest in your legs and back. Ask the interns and older students what they recommend. A great pair of shoes should feel as good as they look, and last you until your first pay check as a medical professional. You might think that this is excessive – why pay hundreds for foot coverings, when you already have shoes that have lasted you during the preclinical days? Put simply, the amount of wear and tear during hospital placement will destroy cheap, low quality shoes, forcing you to buy new pairs every few months. It is better to invest in a pair of high quality shoes now than realise your mistake halfway through your surgery rotation after standing in the same spot for 5 hours with no arch support.
You will have no idea who's who in the hospital
Often in the beginning, your new environment will seem like a mystery, a different language you must decode. From knowing who to ask for help, what your role is, and who is in charge, it may feel overwhelming. The simplest, and most effective, solution would be to simply ask. Whilst it may seem daunting, be not afraid. Everyone is there to help and should be more than willing to help out - after all, they are at a teaching hospital. Over time, you will acclimatise and easily recognise delegations of responsibility and who to approach.
Never Stand Where You Can Sit, Never Sit Where You Can Lie Down
This is pretty self-explanatory. You shall be moving around a lot in the hospital (hopefully in a pair of good shoes). Standing, whilst a good way to lose weight, is also a good way to become tired. Find the spare chair in the patient’s room and put it to use. There is no shame in having a lie down on the examination beds in the teaching space (when they’re not being used). Medicine is tiring – there is no point in making yourself a martyr just to show how long you can go without sitting down. Embrace the couch cushions offered in the staff lounge.
Accept, and Expect, Failure
You will fail. Everyone does. You will not get every cannula, nor every diagnosis, nor will you ace every exam. And that’s okay. Use these moments as learning opportunities. Accepting and expecting future failures alleviates the pain of them occurring. No doctor started out as a perfect student – they all learnt through their mistakes, and even into their career, they still stumble. As Dr Karen Price puts it, do not isolate yourself into the false prison of perfectionism.
As you get deeper into the year, you may develop tunnel vision, ignoring everything outside the hospital. Soon, medicine becomes your life, and what was once your life becomes unrecognisable. Act against this by establishing, and maintaining, your hobbies. Not only does having a recreational pastime help in preventing burnout, it also helps create a well rounded and interesting doctor. You want to have something to talk to patients, colleagues and friends about – you want to be a person, not just a medical student.
Know Your Limits
It is okay to admit when you don’t know something, whether it’s an answer to a question or a procedure you are asked to do. It is in fact encouraged, as it provides a learning opportunity. Additionally, if you are not qualified (or feel uncomfortable) to do something, you are under no obligation to do so— putting yourself and the patients in a harmful position is not good medical practice.
The best way to expose yourself to new experiences is to embrace all opportunities that come your way. However, this isn’t only limited to the in-hospital medical environment – social and extracurricular events should also be seized. Whether it is drinks with the new interns or a medical conference, make an effort to attend. Not only do you expand your horizons, but you may form new friendships and develop as a multi-faceted person.
The transition from preclinical to clinical learning environments is tough – you’re faced with different ways of learning, and completely unique challenges and experiences. It’s easy to be stressed, anxious, lose sight of the bigger picture and burnout. But it is also one of the best parts of your long career, filled with friends, countless experiences, and many memories. Take it one day at a time, and keep these tips in the back of your mind to not lose yourself along the hospital wards.
On the wards, don't be afraid of 'getting in the way'. Ask for tasks, whether it be to insert a cannula or write a discharge summary. The role of a doctor at any public teaching hospital is not just to practice medicine, but to teach the next generation of medical practitioners.
MedicGuild has put together two very helpful articles to help you get the most out of your ward rounds, highly recommended reading!
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