Commencing the first clinical year is a milestone. Things will now be different as your student career steers straight into the unchartered waters of clinical medicine. New challenges and responsibilities lie ahead and not just in an academic sense. After all this is the awaited moment, the start of the apprenticeship you have so desired and laboured for. It won’t be long before these clinical years like the preclinical years before them, will seem just as distant and insular, so why not make the most of it?
The first days hold so much excitation and promise and for many they deliver, however, it would be wise not to be too optimistic. I am afraid your firm head standing abreast the doors in a prophetic splaying of arms is an unlikely sight. In this new clinical environment, it is natural to be a little flummoxed. The quizzical looks of doctors and nurses as you first walk in, a sure sign of your unexpected arrival, is a recurring theme. If the wards are going to be your new hunting ground, proper introductions with the medical team are in order. This might seem like a task of Herculean proportions, particularly in large teaching hospitals. Everyone is busy. Junior doctors scuttling around the ward desks job lists in hand, the registrar probably won’t have noticed you and as luck would have it your consultant firm head is away at a conference. Perseverance during these periods of frustration is a rewarding quality. Winning over the junior doctors with some keenness will help you no end. What I mean to say is that their role in our learning as students extends further than the security of sign-off signatures a week before the end of the rotation. They will give you opportunities. Take them! Although it never feels like it at the time, being a medical student does afford some privileges. The student badge clipped to your new clinic clothes is a license to learn: to embark on undying streaks of false answers, to fail as many skills and clerkings as is required and to do so unabashed.
Unfortunately, the junior doctors are not there purely for your benefit, they cannot always spare the time to directly observe a history taking or an examination, instead you must report back. With practice this becomes more of a tick box exercise: gleaning as much information and then reconfiguring it into a structured presentation. However, the performance goes unseen and unheard. I do not need to iterate the inherent dangers of this practice. Possible solutions? Well receiving immediate feedback is more obtainable on GP visits or at outpatient clinics. They provide many opportunities to test your questioning style and bedside manner. Performing under scrutiny recreates OSCE conditions. Due to time pressure and no doubt the diagnostic cogs running overtime, it is fatefully easy to miss emotional cues or derail a conversation in a way which would be deemed insensitive. Often it occurs subconsciously so take full advantage of a GP or a fellow firm mate’s presence when taking a history.
Self-directed learning will take on new meaning. The expanse of clinical knowledge has a vertiginous effect. No longer is there a structured timetable of lectures as a guide; for the most part you are alone. Teaching will become a valued commodity, so no matter how sincere the promises, do not rest until the calendars are out and a mutually agreed time is settled. I would not encourage ambuscaded attacks on staff but taking the initiative to arrange dedicated tutorial time with your superiors is best started early. Consigning oneself to the library and ploughing through books might appear the obvious remedy, it has proven effective for the last 2-3 years after all. But unfortunately it can not all be learnt with bookwork. Whether it is taking a psychiatric history, venipuncture or reading a chest X-ray, these are perishable skills and only repeated and refined practice will make them become second nature. Balancing studying with time on the wards is a challenge. Unsurprisingly, after a day spent on your feet, there is wavering incentive to merely open a book. Keeping it varied will prevent staleness taking hold. Attending a different clinic, brushing up on some pathology at a post-mortem or group study sessions adds flavour to the daily routine. During the heated weeks before OSCEs, group study becomes very attractive. While it does cement clinical skills, do not be fooled. Your colleagues tend not to share the same examination findings you would encounter on an oncology ward nor the measured responses of professional patient actors.
So ward time is important but little exposure to all this clinical information will be gained by assuming a watchful presence. Attending every ward round, while a laudable achievement, will not secure the knowledge. Senior members of the team operate on another plane. It is a dazzling display of speed whenever a monster list of patients comes gushing out the printer. Before you have even registered each patient’s problem(s), the management plan has been dictated and written down. There is little else to do but feed off scraps of information drawn from the junior doctors on the journey to the next bed. Of course there will be lulls, when the pace falls off and there is ample time to digest a history. Although it is comforting to have the medical notes to check your findings once the round is over, it does diminish any element of mystery. The moment a patient enters the hospital is the best time to cross paths. At this point all the work is before the medical team, your initial guesses might be as good as anyone else’s. Visiting A&E of your own accord or as part of your medical team’s on call rota is well worth the effort. Being handed the initial A&E clerking and gingerly drawing back the curtain incur a chilling sense of responsibility. Embrace it, it will solidify not only clerking skills but also put into practice the explaining of investigations or results as well as treatment options. If you are feeling keen you could present to the consultant on post-take.
Experiences like this become etched in your memory because of their proactive approach. You begin to remember conditions associated with patient cases you have seen before rather than their corresponding pages in the Oxford handbook. And there is something about the small thank you by the F1 or perhaps finding your name alongside theirs on the new patient list the following morning, which rekindles your enthusiasm. To be considered part of the medical team is the ideal position and a comforting thought. Good luck.
This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, Freshers 2013 issue.
Last Wednesday (27/11/13) was Birmingham Medical Leadership Society’s second lecture in its autumn series on why healthcare professionals should become involved in management and leadership.
Firstly, a really big thank you to Mr Smart for travelling all the way to Birmingham for free (!) to speak to us. It was a brilliant event and certainly sparked some debate. A second big thank you to Michelle and Angie – the University of Birmingham Alumni and marketing team who helped organise this event and recorded it – a video will hopefully be available online soon.
Mr Tim Smart is the CEO of King’s NHS Foundation Trust and has been for the last few years – a period in which King’s has had some of the most successive hospital statistics in the UK. Is there a secret to managing such a successful hospital?
“It’s a people business. Patients are what we are here for and we must never forget that”
Mr Smart doesn’t enjoy giving lectures, so instead he had an “intimate chat” covering his personal philosophy of why we as medical students and junior doctors should consider a career in management at some point.
Good managers should be people persons. Doctors are selected for being good at talking to and listening to people – these are directly translatable skills.
Good managers should be team leaders. Medicine is becoming more and more a team occupation, we are all trained to work, think and act as a team and especially doctors are expected to know how to lead this team. Again, a directly transferable skill.
Good managers need to know how to make decisions based on incomplete knowledge and basic statistics. Doctors make life-altering clinical decisions every day based statistics and incomplete knowledge. A very important directly transferable skill.
Good managers get out of their offices, meet the staff and walk around their empires. Doctors, whether surgeons, GP’s or radiologists have to walk around the hospitals on their routine business and have to deal with a huge variety of staff from every level. To be a great doctor you need to know how to get the best out of the staff around you, to get the tasks done that your patients’ need. Directly transferable skills.
Good managers are quick on the up-take and are always looking for new ways to improve their departments. Doctors have to stay on top of the literature and are committed to a life-time of learning new and complex topics. Directly transferable.
Good managers are honest and put in place systems that try to prevent bad situations occurring again. Good doctors are honest and own up when they make a mistake, they then try to ensure that that mistake isn’t made again. Directly Transferable.
Even good managers sometimes have difficulties getting doctors to do what they want – because the managers are not doctors. Doctors that become managers still have the professional reputation of a doctor. A very transferable asset that can be used to encourage their colleagues to do what should be done.
A good manager values their staff – especially the nurses. A good doctor knows just how important the nurses, ODP, physio’s and other healthcare professionals and hospital staff are. This is one of the best reasons why doctors should get involved with management. We understand the front line. We know the troops. We know the problems. We are more than capable of thinking of some of the solutions!
“Project management isn’t magic”
“Everything done within a hospital should be to benefit patients – therefore everything in the hospital should be answerable to patients, including the hospital shop!”
“Reward excellence, otherwise you get mediocrity”
At the present The University of Birmingham Students Medical Leadership Society is in contact with the FMLM and other similar groups at the Universities of Bristol, Barts and Oxford. We are looking to get in contact with every other society in the country. If you are a new or old MLS then please do get in touch, we would love to hear from you and are happy to help your societies in any way we can – we would also love to attend your events so please do send us an invite.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Find us on Facebook @ https://www.facebook.com/groups/676838225676202/
Come along to our up coming events…
Thursday 5th December LT3 Medical School, 6pm
‘Why should doctors get involved in management’
By Dr Mark Newbold, CEO of BHH NHS Trust
Wednesday 22nd January 2014 LT3 Medical School, 6pm
‘Has the NHS lost the ability to care?’ – responding to the Mid Staffs inquiry’
By Prof Jon Glasby, Director of the Health Services Management Centre , UoB
Thursday 20th February LT3 Medical School, 6pm
‘Creating a Major Trauma Unit at the UHB Trust’
By Sir Prof Keith Porter, Professor of Traumatology, UHB
Saturday 8th March LT3 Medical School, 1pm
‘Applying the Theory of Constraints to Healthcare
By Mr A Dinham and J Nieboer ,QFI Consulting
My fellow medical students, interns, residents and attendings:
I am not a medical student but an emeritus professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, and also a voluntary faculty member at the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. I have a great deal of contact with medical students and residents. During training (as student or resident), gaining confidence in one's own abilities is a very important part of becoming a practitioner. This aspect of training does not always receive the necessary attention and emphasis. Below I describe one of the events of confidence building that has had an important and lasting influence on my career as an academic physician.
I graduated from medical school in Belgium many years ago. I came to the US to do my internship in a small hospital in up state NY. I was as green as any intern could be, as medical school in Belgium at that time had very little hands on practice, as opposed to the US medical graduates. I had a lot of "book knowledge" but very little practical confidence in myself. The US graduates were way ahead of me. My fellow interns, residents and attendings were really understanding and did their best to build my confidence and never made me feel inferior.
One such confidence-building episodes I remember vividly. Sometime in the middle part of the one-year internship, I was on call in the emergency room and was called to see a woman who was obviously in active labor. She was in her thirties and had already delivered several babies before. The problem was that she had had no prenatal care at all and there was no record of her in the hospital. I began by asking her some standard questions, like when her last menstrual period had been and when she thought her due date was. I did not get far with my questioning as she had one contraction after another and she was not interested in answering. Soon the bag of waters broke and she said that she had to push. The only obvious action for me at that point was to get ready for a delivery in the emergency room. There was no time to transport the woman to the labor and delivery room.
There was an emergency delivery “pack” in the ER, which the nurses opened for me while I quickly washed my hands and put on gloves. Soon after, a healthy, screaming, but rather small baby was delivered and handed to the pediatric resident who had been called. At that point it became obvious that there was one more baby inside the uterus. Realizing that I was dealing with a twin pregnancy, I panicked, as in my limited experience during my obstetrical rotation some months earlier I had never performed or even seen a twin delivery. I asked the nurses to summon the chief resident, who promptly arrived to my great relief. I immediately started peeling off my gloves to make room for the resident to take my place and deliver this twin baby. However, after verifying that this baby was also a "vertex" without any obvious problem, he calmly stood by, and over my objections, bluntly told me “you can do it”, even though I kept telling him that this was a first for me. I delivered this healthy, screaming twin baby in front of a large number of nurses and doctors crowding the room, only to realize that this was not the end of it and that indeed there was a third baby.
Now I was really ready to step aside and let the chief resident take over. However he remained calm and again, stood by and assured me that I could handle this situation. I am not even sure how many triplets he had delivered himself as they are not too common. Baby number three appeared quickly and also was healthy and vigorous. What a boost to my self-confidence that was! I only delivered one other set of triplets later in my career and that was by C-Section. All three babies came head first. If one of them had been a breech the situation might have been quite different.
What I will never forget is the implied lesson in confidence building the chief resident gave me. I have always remembered that. In fact I have put this approach in practice numerous times when the roles were reversed later in my career as teacher. Often in a somewhat difficult situation at the bedside or in the operating room, a student or more junior doctor would refer to me to take over and finish a procedure he or she did not feel qualified to do. Many times I would reassure and encourage that person to continue while I talked him or her through it. Many of these junior doctors have told me afterwards how they appreciated this confidence building. Of course one has to be careful to balance this approach with patient safety and I have never delegated responsibility in critical situations and have often taken over when a junior doctor was having trouble.
Those interested, can read more about my experiences in the US and a number of other countries, in a free e book, entitled "Crosscultural Doctoring. On and Off the Beaten Path" can be downloaded at this link.