Clinicals Here I Come

In years 1 – 2 we achieved most of our learning through lectures with regular but occasional placements in hospitals plus sessions with GPs (family doctors). 3rd year means starting the clinical part of our medical education where we’ll be members of a “firm” in teaching hospitals and seeing patients full time. I love patient interaction so this is an exciting transition and is the stage of medical school that I’ve been really looking forward to. I still have to kind of pinch myself to prove that it’s happening!

Part of me is guarded about what being in a clinical firm will be like as an extra mature student. Traditionally, age correlates with seniority and students are the youngest in the firm but in my case, there’s a good chance I’ll be older than even the consultant. Until now it hasn’t been an issue and In a lecture hall I’m just another face (albeit a wrinkly one) in a large crowd. A clinical firm is a small team so I’ll stick out. How will I be perceived? Could I be mistaken for a qualified doctor or even as an old fraudster impersonating a medical student?

I’m also wondering whether I’ll be able to answer the questions that consultants and registrars will throw at me. Do they really humiliate their students and juniors? I’ve learned an amazing amount since starting medical school but I feel that I’ve forgotten a lot too. My classmates have voiced similar concerns and we’ve been told: “It’s in there somewhere and comes rushing back when you need it” – Well I hope so as I’m going to need it all very soon and I don’t feel anything rushing about up there.

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The Old One

Me: “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name”
Classmate: “Oh don’t worry, I remember yours because you’re the old one”

At the start of term I wondered how I’d be accepted but despite being twice the age of most of my classmates, I do feel part of the class. I guess it helps that I make an effort to talk to everyone and it doesn’t phase me that technically I could be the same age as some of their parents. Gosh, banish that thought!

About 20% of my cohort are graduates. Some came straight from university whilst others worked for several years after graduation. It’s these lovely people who I usually hang around with although the non-grads are really nice too. Some of the grads are only a few years older than the 18 year olds but it seems that the few years spent independently makes a lot of difference to behaviour, confidence and maturity levels although I’m sure that will even itself out quite quickly.

So I think I fit in OK!  Even if I didn’t, I’m too old to let it worry me now!

The Privilege of Dissection

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A year ago, I was ecstatic about getting into medical school but the first year seems to have flashed by in an instant. It’s been a tense couple of months as we had to pass all the end of year exams to proceed to second year. I really wasn’t sure how I’d performed but I am so relieved to say I’ve made it through.  About one fifth of the cohort need to resit at least one exam and a few students have been “invited” to leave the course.

Looking back, one of the highlights has been full body dissection. Surprisingly, it’s offered at increasingly fewer medical schools in the UK. Instead, schools now use computer based learning, videos, pre-prepared pro-sections and plastination.  In some ways they’re better but they can’t replace the experience of standing over a body, scalpel in hand, carefully cutting and peeling back layers ourselves. Dissection is an amazing learning experience.

However, preservation of a cadaver is not without its effects on the donated body, everything becomes a shade of grey or beige and the formaldehyde stings the eyes. Whilst it must feel different to cutting into a real living human body, all the organs, muscles, nerves…etc remain in the same place so it helps us to build spatial awareness of where everything is – I can’t imagine gaining that from a book or a computer simulation.

The first time we “met” our cadaver Mr(s) X, there were a few nervous classmates. It’s understandable that some people felt faint as the dissection room is warm and the smell of the chemicals combined with the realisation that you are in a room full of dozens of dead bodies laid out on tables can be overwhelming.

Dissection is strictly regulated by the Human Tissue Authority and the school warned us that anyone caught cutting bits off the body and using them in pranks could forget about ever practising medicine. I can’t imagine how anyone could do that as it just shows a lack of respect for the person who kindly donated their body for the benefit of our learning. Anonymity and privacy are also prioritised. All we are told is the age and what the donor died of and any phones have to be switched off as almost all of them have cameras.

With each session, we progressed to removing the organs and studying them to back up our lectures and reading. Each time I was astonished by the ingenuity of the human body. It’s been truly amazing to see how everything is packed so well inside and how everything functions so well together.  No wonder man has found it difficult to design and produce anything artificial that even remotely functions as efficiently and reliably as nature. Millions of years of evolution.

After our end of year exams we attended a funeral service for those who kindly donated their bodies, together with the donors’ friends and relatives. Attendance was optional but the fact that so many students and teaching staff showed up signified that we all had the same thoughts of respect and thankfulness.

So, a big silent thank you from me to you Mr(s) X.

Induction & Freshers Week

NUS-Card
My NUS Card!

At freshers fayre I made the classic mistake of joining every club and society going and believe me there are many, almost anything imaginable. I felt guilty about receiving all manner of freebies, so the least I could do was handover my email address in return for USB drives, medical books & dictionaries, bags, lanyards, pens and chocolates galore.

I’m positive however that I didn’t sign up for the “Harry Potter Society.” Maybe the clubs and societies trade email addresses with each other or maybe they acquired my email by magic? Anyway I’m still getting emails from ‘Dumbledore’ and I’m suspecting a few admissions to A&E (ER) from faces smashing into platform 9 and 3/4.

Enrolling was pretty painless and I’m now a proud owner of an ID card which has my name, my photo and the words “medical student” written underneath – physical proof! I’ve also received an NUS card which entitles the holder to student discount at lots of shops – brilliant!

The head of school gave a talk about “Professionalism” and how we all have to be more responsible than other students so the less said about the Freshers Week antics, the better…