Medical Students – Transitioning Tips into Clinical Years

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Clinical years’ learning will differ from pre-clinical learning, so here are some points to keep in mind – I hope they help!

  • Clinical learning is self-directed. Doctors will not spoon-feed you when they have a whole ward of patients and pending jobs.
  • Have clear goals in for yourself and make sure you take breaks and don’t try to learn everything in the first week!
  • Don’t burn out before you get started.
  • You will not know all the answers initially; this is okay, you learn as you go!
  • Ask questions and make notes of the topics you need to work on further.
  • Don’t just ask doctors. Ask your nurses, your ODPs, your ward clerks anyone involved in patient care.
  • Incorporate what you’ve learnt in your pre-clinical years for your clinical years.

Learning from Patients

This is the time where we can step away from textbooks alone and utilise the ultimate learning resource: our patients.

  • Presentations stick when we see them more frequently.
  • Subtle differences can be observed because no two patients are the same.
  • Practice examinations on patients who are willing to volunteer, particularly ones with abnormal signs.
  • Then practice on housemates or family members so you can tell between the two.
  • Keep practicing until it’s muscle memory – it’ll look slick in your exams.
  • A student who’s interacted with more patients will be more at ease in medical school exam scenarios versus one who’s skived every afternoon.

Organising Notes

It is important to translate your pre-clinical knowledge into clinical application, so this is how I’d break it down:

  • Definition: a single sentence describing the condition; maybe a buzz word or two
  • Epidemiology: who gets it, how often do people get it, what risks can cause it
    • I use a lot of mnemonics or drawings to help me with this!
    • For example, a mnemonic for remembering risk factors for cholesterol gallstones is the 5 Fs:
      • Fat
      • Forty
      • Female (increased estrogen is thought to increase cholesterol levels in bile and decrease gallbladder contractions)
      • Fertile
      • Fair (more commonly seen in Caucasians)
  • Presentation: symptoms of the condition or other signs – remember, the more you see, the easier it is to recognise
  • Causes: lifestyle, genetics, any other causal factors
  • Pathophysiology: aim for simple explanations that make sense to you
    • Learning how the disease affects the body lends itself to learning the typical history / investigations / management triad
  • Types / terminology: if applicable, different types of the condition/how are they treated
    • This could particularly be useful for examinations. Examiners love asking questions that would involve you from picking and distinguishing between multiple types of the same condition
  • Investigations: How do you prove a patient has this condition? How can you rule out important diagnoses you must not forget?
    • Bedside tests
    • Blood tests
    • Imaging
    • Special tests
  • Scoring system: if applicable
  • Management:
    • Emergency
    • Conservative
    • Medical
    • Surgical
  • Complications: what can happen if the condition is not properly treated?

Let us hear your tips!

What would be your tips to students that could be in your shoes in the future? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading! Hope you found it useful.

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