Clinical placement: finding the value

Clinical placements provide a real-life work experience for medical students in primary, secondary and social care settings. Here are some top tips on extracting the most from it

Location: Northern Ireland
Last reviewed: 7 January 2022
42610 grace richmond
  • If you know the subject of your teaching session the next day in the hospital, read the topic in the recommended textbook the night before. The teaching session will be a test of your active recall which is easy revision for exams
  • Showing up to placement is so worthwhile and it can help you get an idea of what careers are more suited to you. Medical school isn’t just to train you to pass exams, it is to help you become a competent practitioner. Showing up to placement helped me structure my time better, improve my clinical skills and it helped me visualise the scenarios in the situation judgement exam
  • It is beneficial to use a recommended textbook for each specialty as well as the material on the QUB medical school ‘med portal’. I would suggest borrowing these textbooks from the library to save money, and remember most hospitals on your placement will also have a library. If you come across recommended reading that the library doesn’t have in stock, you can always suggest it as a new book for them to purchase which more than often they are happy to do 
  • Practice multiple choice questions online using Passmedicine or Pastest for each specialty as you go through them. Focus on the questions you get wrong and learn from your mistakes. Passmedicine also provides an excellent and concise textbook which is super valuable and better than ‘googling’ topics as it cuts out the distraction
  • The year goes by very quickly so don’t worry if you did not have a lot of time to study during a particular placement block. Instead, focus on the current placement block and staying up to date with that. You can always go back to whatever you didn’t finish on weekends/holiday periods. Try not to let it happen during every placement though or your work will build up
  • Don’t be put off by a certain placement block if you are struggling with it. It will only make up a fractional percentage of your end of year exam. Be kind to yourself and just try your best.
  • Often it is easy to study the subjects we are good at and avoid the subjects we find difficult but try to focus on what you find hard so that you can improve 
  • Try not to get distracted by other students telling you how much or how little revision they have already done. It is not a competition and you need to work at your own pace. Comparison can be a thief of joy 
  • Talk to students who have already done that placement and ask them for any advice. They have navigated it already and are in the best position to give tips. Likewise, talk to other students about their experience of different hospitals when it comes to picking placements in new locations
  • As you go through the year think about the specialties you are enjoying and if you could see yourself in that career pathway. If you are focused on pursuing a particular career pathway in the future, you can download their specialty training application requirements. Some of the requirements you can start to meet as a medical student such as completing audits and quality improvement and it is easier to achieve goals when you know where the goalposts are set
  • Talk to the doctors that are teaching you in the hospitals and GP surgeries. Ask them the obvious questions such as what they enjoy or not enjoy about their job, did they always want to end up in that medical specialty and what advice would give someone starting out in their field. If you are still unsure about what specialty you are interested in, try to do SSCs in the area or a taster week
  • After a long day of placement take time to be kind to yourself. If you are tired, recognise that you need to rest and cut back your study time for that evening. An hour or two every evening all adds up
  • Remember to look after yourself. Exercise is great for generating some endorphins and shaking off stress and joining a gym or a sports club can help you find community outside of medicine. Making time for your hobbies is also important, whether that be catching up with friends, cooking or watching a good Netflix show. Finding and maintaining balance will pay off and go a long way to helping us be happier and looking after our mental health
  • Remember, we all have days where we don’t achieve what we set out to, but bad day of studying doesn’t define you. A bad day doesn’t have to lead to a bad week or a bad month. Every day is an opportunity for a fresh, new start. We are studying medicine in an unprecedently difficult time both for both our education, and for many of us personally. The pandemic has changed how we learn, how we are examined and our daily routines and lives. Give yourself some grace, you are amazing, and are fighting against the odds to graduate medicine during a challenging time.

Grace Richmond is a final year medical student