Being ignored on clinical placements is a deflating experience. Kanwal Ahmed, Salma Hashim, Mariyam Khankhara, and Ilhan Said share this composite account of how it has affected them and an appeal to consultants
Hello. It’s me.
That familiar (or not so familiar) face at the back of the ward round. Curtain shutter in chief.
My first day. I see you, my lead consultant, as I perch on the printer at handover, peering over a shoulder to make sense of the ward list. Suddenly the room empties, and I scramble to find the team I’m meant to follow. “They’re probably on the 7th floor by now,” someone mumbles. The lifts are taking too long. Stairs it is. Breathless, I struggle to find the ward. This wasn’t in the induction.
I finally find the elusive ward. “Hello, my name is Sarah, I’m one of the medical students on this team.” You look up from the drug chart in the junior’s hands, nod, and return to your management plan.
I spend the next five minutes trying to catch a glimpse of everyone’s ID cards as I struggle to figure out who they are. They say #HelloMyNameIs is important, but perhaps medical students don’t count.
Two patients later and no one has said a word to me. Once again, there’s not enough room at the bedside. I try to piece together the history of the patient’s presentation from the whispers I hear on the other side of the curtain. I gather that she’s opened her bowels today and she’s looking forward to seeing her son later. This might be a little more valuable if I had some context.
Right, new game plan. Maybe if I ask a question, they’ll see that I am interested, and I really do want to learn.
I approach a friendly looking junior doctor.
“Sorry, excuse me, I was just wondering about this patient…” Juggling a stack of patient notes while trying to find the nurses, she whispers, “Absolutely, things are a little busy right now but we can chat after the ward round.”
Later, she hands me an apron before we enter a side room. It really is the little things.
At the end of the ward round, the juniors disperse. You approach me, saying, “Ah you’re the medical student. How long are you here for?”
“Great, we’re a busy ward. There’s lots to see so make sure you get stuck in.”
You turn to leave. I’m relieved to hear that maybe the next few weeks will be useful after all.
It’s week three. Nothing has changed. Why do I even go in?
At the start of my placement, I went to the ward round every day, hoping each day that it would be different. I clerked some patients and presented too. The juniors were happy to help but most of their time was occupied with paperwork and chasing results on the phone.
One day you quizzed me on the causes of jaundice. I know I didn’t know all the answers but I learnt more that day than I had the whole week. These moments were rare, but truly appreciated.
Another day, I walked into the handover room. You said good morning and smiled as I sat down. Surprised, I replied. You waited a moment and stared: “Oh sorry, I thought you were the social worker.” I’ve been here for four weeks.
Finally, it’s the end of my placement. I have to see you for sign off.
“How was it?”
I’m scared to complain. I’m sure you’ve been busy.
“Good,” I say.
We know not all placements are like this and not all experiences are the same. There’s the consultant who arranges ward lists for their students, the consultant who teaches students about each patient while the junior prepares notes, the consultant who asks the radiologist to explain scans for students in the back of the X ray meeting. There’s the consultant who shows you how to document in a patient’s notes and teaches students to really identify signs rather than going through the motions for exams. And countless more who shape our education.
Sadly, the poor experiences in our account are shared by many of our peers, and so we’ve written this composite narrative to shine a light on them. Whispers of stories from the ward make their way around the common room. Stories of being grilled and humiliated on ward rounds and, much worse, the placements where we are invisible.
We understand that there are many demands on consultants’ time—patients are at the forefront of their minds, and rightly so. But please try to remember we’re here.
Because for the consultant who ignores their medical students, next year, we’ll be your FY1s.
*All incidents referred to in this account are real life events.
Kanwal Ahmed, Salma Hashim, Mariyam Khankhara, and Ilhan Said are final year medical students at Imperial College London.
Competing interests: None declared.