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Finding your feet when starting clinical training

20 August 2019 | Avant Media

As medical students, making the switch to clinical training can be a little overwhelming. While there’s a lot to take in, doctor in training and former Avant Student Advisory Council member, Dr Clinton Colaco, shares his own experience and some practical tips to make the transition as easy and rewarding as possible.

Self-directed learning

Clinton, who completed his medical degree at Bond University in Queensland and now works as a medical registrar at Sydney’s Liverpool Hospital, believes the key difference between pre-clinical and clinical training is an emphasis on self-directed learning.

“You need to suss out what you think is important and go from there, because you are not going to get a series of learning objectives that say ‘this is what you need to know,’ like you did in your pre-clinical years,” he warns.

Just say ‘yes’

It can take a while to get the hang of clinical rotations, but being friendly and open-minded will make for a smooth transition.

“If you are new to the hospital, introduce yourself to everyone you will be in contact with and be willing to do anything,” Clinton says. “Be willing to do different procedures and even the little odd jobs, whether that’s passing on a form or holding something.”

Clinton recalls when he was first given the opportunity to insert a catheter into a patient with urinary retention.

“I had never done one before, but I had some assistance from an emergency doctor who guided me through it,” he says. “I did it with no problems whatsoever, which surprised both of us,” he laughs.

Take lots of notes

Clinton also advises taking brief notes of any patient’s cases during hospital rotations. Not only will this help you to recall particular cases, it will help when it comes to exam time.

“For example, if I saw something and didn’t really know much about it, I would note it down and look it up at the end of the day,” Clinton says. “This really cemented my learning, both from a clinical and academic perspective.”

Find a balance

It goes without saying that successfully completing your clinical training is very important, but Clinton believes it’s equally important for medical students to maintain a balanced lifestyle to cope with the stress that can come during these years.

"A lot of students neglect the other aspects of their life during their clinical training,” he says. “Some say ‘medicine isn’t simply a career but a lifestyle choice,’ but I think some students take this comment a little too seriously and forget to consider their health and social activities.”

While completing his final year, Clint maintained a work and life balance by taking part in a range of extra-curricular activities including being a member of the Medical Students Society, playing cricket, regularly attending the gym, working as a high school tutor and travelling around Australia and overseas.

Clinical training won’t be without its challenges, but you should now have an idea of what to expect and how to prepare to get the most out of your clinical years.

Clinton’s quick tips

1. Be friendly
Introduce yourself to other students and staff ­– especially the hospital ward’s Nursing Unit Manager. Remember to be polite to nurses on the ward as they will be your biggest help for the rest of your career.

2. Study up
Before you start any clinical rotation it’s a good idea to read up on the specialty to get a feel for it. Supplement the practical knowledge you gain during your rotations by doing further reading and multiple-choice questions to test your understanding.

3. Seek variety
Try not observe the same procedure five times – make sure you see a variety of procedures. Don’t shy away from simple procedures.

4. Be willing and able
Agree to perform any duties within your limits to increase your medical knowledge and skills. For example, if you are given the opportunity to suture – say yes. If you are not confident, ask for supervision and be honest about your capability.

5. Obtain consent and document
Patients are generally very happy to assist in the education of medical students. However, it’s important that patients understand your position and role, and consent to you performing any procedures on them. It’s a good idea to start to document all your clinical interventions in the patient’s file, including any discussions around obtaining verbal consent from patients.

6. Get organised in tracking patients
Learn how to track patients and follow up their results. Develop a systematic approach to track every patient through their admission and any outstanding actions.

7. Understand other specialties
Develop a good understanding of specialties outside of your clinical interests as you will be interacting with these doctors, nurses and allied health staff in the future.

8. Do other stuff
Keep up your extra-curricular activities during your clinical training to maintain a balanced lifestyle – you don’t want to come across as a one-dimensional bore at parties!

Learn more

For advice on striking a healthy balance during your transition to clinical training visit our Health and Wellbeing website or the Doctors’ Health Advisory Service in your state or territory.

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