Making the most of your placement

Tips to making the most of your placement

From his experiences hosting first and second-year medical students, Dr Andrew Leech shares his tips on making your time spent on a GP placement more beneficial and valuable.

When you think about your general practice term, what thoughts come to mind?

For some, it may be apprehension, nervousness or fear. For others it is an exciting opportunity to see what happens in a real clinic where they finally meet real patients.

When I completed my first few GP terms I found it overwhelming. It took me time and patience to understand what a GP does in a clinic and how they interact with patients.

As a first-year medical student, I would often sit in the corner, anxious about making mistakes. I was daunted by the idea of meeting ‘real’ patients, but at the same time amazed that I had finally made it to this hallmark stage of my training.

Looking back at my approach, I know I was timid and could have tried harder to make my placements more worthwhile.

I did not appreciate that patients are very understanding. They often enjoy speaking to medical students, telling their story and allowing students to take histories. Like an open medical textbook, each patient offers so much for you to learn from.

So my message is simple, don’t be afraid of your experience, but rather, take every opportunity as it comes. Every patient is a learning experience; be humbled by the fact that you are in the room with them, listening to what can be some very personal and moving stories.


Top four tips for making the most of your placement


1. Learn how the clinic runs

Have a look at who is in the team, how they jell together and what each team member does for the patient. People in your team can include pathology nurses, practice managers, receptionists, and practice nurses – just to name a few. Each clinic is different, but every person plays an important role in running a clinic and treating patients. Spend time with each person in the clinic so you can understand what each role involves.


2. Listen to your GP and patient interact

During placement, you have a rare opportunity to observe the conversation between a GP and their patient. Remember what questions are asked, and how the GP answers each question. You will often hear GPs ask open questions to begin, followed by a series of direct and at times very focused questions unique to general practice.


3. Become involved

Show interest and initiative at your placement by becoming as involved as you can during your placement. Ask the attending GP if you can take a history, perform an examination and present your findings. Ask for feedback on your presentation skills and don’t be afraid of constructive criticism. Ask if you can practise basic clinical skills such as spirometry, ECGs, BSLs and dressings. Practise as often as you can.


4. See every patient as an open book for learning

From the moment a patient walks towards the consultation room, they are presenting clues as to why they are attending. You may note a persistent cough, an unsteady gait or poor eye contact. This is the start of observing the patient and understanding them the way a GP does.


About the author

A former GPRA member, Dr Andrew Leech graduated from Notre Dame University in Fremantle in 2009. Together with his wife and two daughters, he lives in Perth. He practices as a GP in Canning Vale. Andrew returned to The University of Notre Dame on a part-time basis as an educator for medical students.

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