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Placement Etiquette: A Guide for Aspiring/New Medical Students

Everyone talks about the importance of work experience, and there is a good amount of advice on how to find something relevant to do (care work, hospital volunteering, structured placements etc.). In this post, I hope to guide you through some of the pitfalls of placements, using key themes beginning with ‘C’ to make it a little more memorable:

1. Consent

Before you see a patient, make sure you have been given the go-ahead by a healthcare professional involved in their care, and that the patient knows who you are and has consented to your presence.

2. Confidentiality

Consider where you are (who could hear?), and whether what you are saying could in any way be considered private information. This includes patients’ names, addresses, diagnoses, and anything they have told you in confidence – also, try to anonymise any notes you make!

3. Competence

Be clear about who you are and that your role is observational; if you’re ever unsure about anything, please double check with a member of staff!

4. Colleagues’ Roles 

This is a selected summary of healthcare professionals you might come across during your work experience:

5. Contractions and Common Phrases

Medical jargon is commonly used by healthcare professionals – it may be helpful to be aware of some commonly used phrases, e.g. ‘patient history’, ‘obs’, ‘NEWS’, ‘ward round’. If something doesn’t make sense to you, ask!

6. Clinical Environment

Primary careSecondary care
Patients’ first point of contact: including GPs, dentists, and pharmacists.The majority of hospital care and some specialised community services (e.g. local mental health teams).
Treat a wide variety of common conditions. However, some illnesses require referral to secondary care for specialist treatment.Inpatient care (in hospital, where patients are admitted until they are discharged) and outpatient care (usually clinic appointments with specialists).

7. Clothing

In terms of appropriate attire, you can’t go wrong with a pair of smart trousers (never jeans!) and a plain shirt. Make sure that what you’re wearing is comfortable enough to walk/stand in all day, to walk quickly or run if necessary, and that you are bare below the elbow with long hair tied back.

8. Considerations

Other points to consider include doing a little research if you know where you will be placed, taking a small notebook and pen, and asking questions during the day!

9. Completion

At the end of each day, make sure you have made a clear note of the date, what you did (anonymised, of course), who you were with, what you learnt, and anything you want to look up later. This can be very useful for future reflections. Also, make time to contact whoever you arranged your experience with – an email thanking them for their efforts goes a long way.

Written by Emma Poynton-Smith

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