During the summer of 2011, students from St Andrews were given the opportunity to do a clinical consolidation block in an area and specialty of their choice. The specialities ranged from A&E to general medicine to surgery. Accommodation was provided. It certainly wasn’t luxurious, but was enough to keep us going for the week. This was the first time the school has offered students the chance to experience what life is like in a clinical environment with real patients. So you may be thinking what is so different about a consolidation block compared to a usual medical school placement?*
The first thing that strikes you is the amount of responsibility handed to you. What you do will make a difference to someone else’s life. Unlike your single day 9 am- 5 pm placement, you will be attached to a speciality of your choice for a minimum of 1 week. This allows you to have a clearer understanding of what to expect in your chosen speciality. You will not be spoon-fed information; rather, you will be expected to work and solve problems independently in a way that suits you best. The final thing you will notice is that you will be treated as part of a team rather than just a student who is there to learn. So, what can you end up learning and doing?
At one end of the spectrum, you could be placed in a ward for general medicine where you will be part of a team of health care professionals who will not only guide you, but also allow you to have the independence to care for patients . This will provide you the opportunity to practice the skills you have acquired through medical school and experience a typical day in the life of a hospital based clinician. It’s interesting to see how information from a wide range of sources like CT scans and haematology reports, for example, is integrated to provide a diagnosis. Some of the skills you may consolidate include clerking in patients, drawing bloods, and performing examinations. Remember, you may not always succeed in your first attempt, but as they say, practice makes perfect!
At the other end of the spectrum you could be placed in the accident and emergency depart- ment where the adrenaline is pumping and the anticipation is high. From blood to pus, you see it all! You will realise it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, as television programmes seem to portray a totally different dimension of what A&E is like. Teamwork plays a larger part than what you would expect and its reassuring to see doctors at a higher level of expertise get advice from their colleagues. There is a huge variety of cases. One hour you could be dealing with intoxicated patients; and the next, you could be suturing an open wound. Having good communication skills is key when dealing with patients, and you may even come across a suicidal patient where care has to be taken of what is being said. At A&E, you will have to learn how to work quickly and accurately under pressure. Do you have what it takes?
‘To make hay while the sun shines’, is a popular phrase of the past, but it never fails to prove the point of making the most of any opportunity. The clinical consolidation block is certainly an opportunity that is not to be missed!
* It is in the second year of the St Andrews course that students go out on community attachments, for a full day, every two weeks.