This fortnight, we found out about where we would be going for our placements from September as we enter the clinical part of the course. The news had the group chats buzzing with excitement and apprehension about the next stage in our course; after a year spent inside, studying from behind screens, transitioning to a hands-on clinical learning environment is difficult to conceptualise. At the moment when even the thought of going for a meal in a restaurant seems wildly exotic, moving to a learning environment where the priority is the delivery of care to real patients is almost unimaginable.
But September will be here sooner than we think, and I am looking forward to this new context and thinking about how to best approach it. Of course, trusty YouTube is buzzing with advice videos about how to approach learning on the wards, but the NHS we will be entering is much changed from the one described in the accounts I have found online. In the best-case scenario, by September, most of the population will have received at least a first dose of the vaccine, and we will have a handle on new variants of the virus. The full complement of services that have been paused in the acute phase of the pandemic will be resumed. But these services will likely be in the throes of dealing with a backlog of cases – and likely treating people with more severe disease as a result of the long delays in access to care. And it is also likely that many of the radical changes that were rapidly implemented to limit face-to-face contact during the pandemic will become permanent – many more consultations will be online and on the phone. I hope that some of these changes will make it easier for patients to access care, and I am interested in what ways this forced NHS evolution will impact patient outcomes in the short, medium and long term.
Speaking of patients, while our face-to-face contact with patients has been curtailed this year, we have still been meeting online, over video call. I have appreciated the opportunity to talk to people about their experiences of living with chronic diseases, and of how they have adapted to their diagnoses. Looking to learn more about patient experiences, I have discovered the world of YouTube vloggers who discuss how they manage their chronic conditions – from practical information about how they set up their long-term IV parenteral nutrition systems, to candid discussions of intimacy within a relationship when you have a stoma. These accounts have brought alive the somewhat dry textbook descriptions and put a human face to the opportunities and challenges posed by modern medicine. I am hoping that these reflections will stand me in good stead as I enter the next phase of my medical learning, and as the idea of being qualified to walk alongside people on their health journeys gets one step closer to becoming a reality.
How did you manage the transition from the theoretical to the clinical course? What are your tips for learning on the wards and in clinics? What do you know now that you wish you would have known at the start of your clinical learning journey? I would love to hear from you in the comments.