‘Take this patient’s history!’ one of the consultants said to me as I wandered around the Acute Medical Unit during my sixth form work experience at a hospital. I told them I didn't know how to but the consultant paid no heed, and I was pushed into talking to the patient and finding out why they were in the hospital. I thanked my lucky stars that the patient whose history I was taking was actually an NHS worker, so she ended up guiding me through the conversation and saved me from breaking the blood pressure machine.
Only afterwards did I realise the consultant had mistaken me for a first-year medical student. In hindsight, perhaps I shouldn’t have run around the whole department with a pen and paper in my hand, asking the doctors questions and making notes, just like a medical student would. It was safe to say that in my short time there, I’d experienced a foundation doctor’s trauma before I'd even started medical school yet…
Earlier that same day, I had been hanging out in the handover room whilst the consultant I was shadowing left for lunch. I was hoping to meet other health professionals, and that's when I met a registrar who was interested in medical education. He taught me some quick spine anatomy, which, admittedly, I forgot shortly afterwards. In my defence, I had been too busy admiring the 3D anatomy app! We then spoke about the lumbar puncture procedure, cerebrospinal fluid and the meninges. I loved how logically it was explained, and I told him so. ‘PBL (problem-based learning),’ he simply said. ‘That’s how I learnt it and that’s how I’m teaching it too.’
I was then invited to attend a lumbar puncture training session with the junior doctors. I walked with the doctors, and the long route to the building gave me the perfect opportunity to seek advice.
‘Don’t do medicine just because you’re clever, or your parents want you to be a doctor. Don’t do it for the reputation, it’s not worth it. Do it if you’re passionate and only if you’re passionate. You seem to be.'
Those words have stuck by me since then.
At the demonstration, I was put well out of my comfort zone when everyone encouraged me to go first in performing a lumbar puncture on a manikin. Luckily, I managed to get a lot of support when I informed them I was only 17! I enjoyed the teaching session thoroughly and the best part was being able to see the doctors perform two real lumbar punctures afterwards.
The two procedures I observed were very eventful because in the first one I almost brushed past the sterile table (whoops) and the patient’s husband fainted (not because I almost brushed past the sterile table). As for the next one, we had a very nervous patient and so whilst one doctor performed the procedure, the other talked to the patient to calm her down. During their conversation, the patient warned the doctor that she was about to faint, and the doctor, using the reasoning that it’s near impossible for a patient to faint while lying down, reassured her that she wasn’t going to faint.
And guess what happened afterwards… Yep, the patient fainted. The procedure was cut short and the needles pulled out. It was an emergency. ‘Obs machine!’ both doctors shouted and so I sprinted to the nurse to ask her for one. The doctors then managed the situation and the patient was fine. And you know what? This was the exact same patient who then saved me from breaking hospital equipment later on in the day when I was forced to take their history!
Looking back now, I’d say work experience placements are golden opportunities just for you to enjoy and learn! Make sure to radiate your energy and passion and ask loads of questions! :)