Shadowing a Doctor

February 27, 2015

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Last week I completed my latest work experience placement at Peterborough City Hospital. Unlike the last time I did this, I was set on Medicine from the start, so I went armed with questions for the doctors, registrars, and consultants that I would be following for that week. So what did I take from this experience?

Medicine is very real

As groaningly obvious a statement as this might seem, you can never really appreciate the realism that Medicine entails until you have experienced the emergency alarm sounding, and the resus team rushing up to the ward to deal with a cardiac arrest by directing CPR. This occurred during my placement when I least expected it, and the doctor I was with had to rush off to help. They saved the patient’s life with CPR and defibrillation, however seeing the patient, a 92-year-old man, in pain afterwards shook me up, and it took a while to come to terms with what I had witnessed. Did seeing this emergency, high adrenaline situation deter me from Medicine? Initially it made me question it, but then I realised that in fact it was pretty amazing how well organised and efficient the team was, and how it was all in a day’s work that they saved someone’s life. This motivated me even further in my desire to study Medicine.

“Try to convince yourself not to do Medicine.”

If after that you still want to do it, go for it.

This was the advice that a consultant gave me when I was shadowing him in a fracture clinic, and I think he makes a great point. You never really know that you want to do something until you question it frequently, and always come to the same conclusion. Medicine isn’t just a career, it’s a whole lifestyle, and I’ve seen first hand how it influences all aspects of your life, even outside of work. Not to focus on the negatives of Medicine, there are so many positives after all, but if someone was thinking of studying because they want a ‘glamorous lifestyle’ then no. This is an achingly ignorant misconception.

Medical School is just the beginning

Being an A level student thinking about Medical school used to mean to me that once I got there, that would be it. My life would be complete and I could settle down as a highly successful consultant, perhaps balance this alongside my own reality show. Again, a painful mistake. Medical school is the launching pad to the next round of exams that students will have to take. It would take years of exams and studying to become a consultant, and perhaps even longer taking into account the bottlenecking that occurs when all the speciality registrars suddenly start looking for a promotion. While at the hospital I sat in on a presentation by an orthopaedic registrar who was taking his exams to become a consultant. This involved, among other things, a very detailed explanation of the types, causes and treatments of femoral fractures. He could then be expected to have to detail the procedure to perform an operation to a board of examiners under pressure.

It’s not a 9 to 5

Although they might get a day off in the week, the life of a junior doctor or an SHO is made up of shift work, on call hours and ward cover. Some of the SHOs in Orthopaedics that I followed were scheduled to work two thirteen hour days in a row on call, and then alternate between half a day in theatre and half a day ward cover for the rest of the week, minus a day off. Unsociable hours and hard work are to be expected realistically as a junior doctor, but I can say with confidence that on many days, the time flies by very quickly. An example of this is during clinics, where a consultant and their registrar/s will see lots of patients one after another in quick succession. This keeps things interesting and allows you to see a wide variety of cases in a short space of time, making it an invaluable learning opportunity for a student like me.

It’s not always easy to talk to patients

Perhaps another fairly obvious point to make, but it can be really surprising how uncooperative some patients can be. One doctor I was with told me that it is important to be empathetic with patients. One gentleman was not responding to anything the therapy team, or the other doctors were saying to him, but once this doctor had explained to the patient that he understood what a tough time he’d been having in hospital, and how frustrated he must be to be kept there, the patient opened up, and allowed the team to go ahead and treat his pain, a little more each day. This conversation took a while, but without having shown empathy to the patient, there’s no guarantee that he would have become cooperative for quite some time. It’s essential to be able to put them at their ease, and behave like a human being rather than a robot programmed by textbooks. The doctors know how distressing it can be going through major surgery or treatment for pain, and letting the patient know that they’re being taken seriously can increase cooperation to a great extent.

So there’s a summary of what I learned from shadowing during this placement. Having completed this work experience I am more excited than ever to be pursuing a medical career, keeping in mind how there are an infinite number of things you could experience on the wards that lectures and further reading just don’t prepare you for.


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.