Fiona Vincent

Final year medical student, Fiona Vincent, recently spent time with us as part of the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management elective.

Here she reflects on the type of leader she’d like to be, and the discomfort of mismatched theatre shoes.

I was at the hospital by 7am, ready for a much-anticipated day of surgery. I courteously obtained permission to go to theatre and managed to source and struggle into a pair of mismatched scrubs and odd sized theatre shoes- I think I had a size 4 on my left foot and a size 8 on my right. I am a size 6 but they were all I could find. I hobbled my way hastily to theatre as I did not want to be late for the team briefing. I entered theatre (through the correct door- I had made the error of entering through the wrong door last time), introduced myself and prepared to be asked to stand out of the way while busy people got on with their day jobs. Instead, my day was made when my supervisor said: “Fiona, please scrub up, I would like you to assist with this case.”

Over the past five years at medical school I have been taught by many different people in many different learning environments. In the latter stages of my training, I have spent the majority of my time in clinical settings being taught by doctors and other healthcare professionals. Through meeting and learning from others on my placements, I have gained an insight into the career and life I am about to embark upon. Each of these experiences has shaped my understanding of medicine and the sort of doctor I would like to become. By this I mean the principles I would like to live and work by, and the behaviours I would like to demonstrate.

Life as a medical student certainly has its challenges. The first day of a placement can be daunting in a new setting and often faced with a barrage of challenging questions from a senior doctor. Some doctors argue that because they were interrogated as students many years ago, they feel obliged to treat students in the same way as a rite of passage. Not everyone feels that way. I have had the privilege of being instructed by some excellent teaching doctors. It is no surprise that the quality of teaching – and the approach shown to students – varies so much as often these doctors have not been formally trained in how to teach. I have frequently pondered with friends and colleagues over what makes a good teaching doctor. I think part of the problem is that it is easy to forget what it feels like to be a student once you are qualified.

Therefore I have decided to write some reminders for my future self, for when medical school is a distant memory and I have forgotten what it feels like to be a student on placement:

1) Remember first impressions last

It is a rare blessing when a team are aware that a student is joining them, when they welcome you and tell you where the basic amenities are, such as the loos and the lockers. Students are members of the team and are there to learn and be involved. Making an effort to remember the name of your student goes a long way to making them feel included. I can almost guarantee that a student will return home with a spring in their step and tell their friends if a doctor knew who they were and was expecting them for the placement. A student is far more likely to attend placement regularly and learn and contribute if they have a positive rapport with the team.

2) Take a tailored approach

Medical students are future doctors and therefore one’s future professional colleagues. By taking a small amount of time to establish the stage of training they have reached and their objectives for the placement, you can tailor the teaching to meet their goals. They may have significant skills to contribute to the team – so empower them by getting them involved.

 3) Be mindful of your manner

Medical students gain a unique perspective of many different healthcare teams. The constant cycle through placements means that students witness teams performing in a multitude of specialities from surgery to general practice. Remember that your behaviour and manner will be noticed and can make a lasting impression. Consider how you portray your specialty and others. Openly denigrating a specialty can be damaging.

4) Create a positive culture

There is no doubt that we are experiencing very challenging times in healthcare. However, we should share a little positivity. Remember the powerful effect of working with healthcare professionals who are passionate about medicine and caring for people and who put patients first. In these situations, the whole atmosphere improves, and the patients notice it too. Strive to be positive and focus on solutions.

On placement, it makes all the difference when you are accepted and made to feel a valued member of the team. Excellent teachers empower students and acknowledge their potential. They invest their time in the future generation of doctors and recognise that by passing on their knowledge and experience they leave a lasting professional legacy.