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Starting Clinical Years

Updated: Aug 7, 2022

Starting clinical years is definitely daunting. From lectures and taking notes to the clinical environment and applying knowledge, it’s really a big change! Thus, here are a few tips on starting clinical years.

Look smart

The first thing to do is to look presentable as it gives a good first impression. This isn’t anything extreme at all and simply involves having your clothing semi-ironed and having the equipment that you need. Most of the time this includes a stethoscope, notepad/iPad and a pen (Super important!! Mainly because they are in constant shortage and super helpful during ward rounds). Also, make sure that you are below the elbows and your hair is tied up. These are basics but it just shows you’re prepared to learn!

Volunteer/ Speak Up

At the start, volunteering can seem scary and it's often much easier and comforting to be shadowing. A great thing to volunteer for is writing out obs and ward round notes. If you’ve previously shadowed a task or if you’re confident in it, volunteer! If not, make them aware that it’s your first time or you’d like supervision. Remember this is your learning environment and THIS IS HOW YOU LEARN! If something sounds interesting, ask to shadow! 98% of the time they will be happy to have you there. Be involved and make your shadowing active. Sometimes the clinical environment can get busy or some doctors just don’t talk very much and shadowing can become tedious. Ask questions! Sometimes they can forget to explain what’s happening so ask what you’re doing and why; patient treatment plans; NHS protocol or even talk through common conditions or something you’re confused about. Asking questions will reinforce your knowledge and you’ll have a real-life case to link back to. I found this super helpful, during revision I would think back to these cases as a prompt.


The amount of information received in hospitals can feel overwhelming. It may feel like you know nothing. One thing you can do is consider where you are. A lot of my placements were in tertiary care centres which meant that there were many uncommon cases. Every case was something different and something I had never heard of. I started asking how common conditions were to gauge how important it is that I know the ins and outs of it. Filtering conditions is definitely necessary because of how vast medicine is. OSCE focuses on understanding and treatment of common and emergency situations. This is a vital foundation of a doctor, and you will build with time and experience. Learning the pathophysiology and tertiary treatment of every condition isn’t necessary. Then again don’t just switch off on the ward, everything is useful. On the ward I would make note of conditions/treatments I would see and research them. This created a nice bank of conditions by the end of that placement and a good revision tool.

Speaking to Patients

This can seem scary! But then again it may be the easiest part of clinical years. Patients are often extremely friendly and are excited to have someone to speak to. Introduce yourself and ask if they’re happy to speak to you. Make clear that you’re a student and this is for your learning. Some wards can be abit hectic so you can ask someone which patients are often happy to speak to students. I used to be really scared of asking too personal questions or offending patients. I’ve learnt that starting with ‘you don’t have to answer anything you’re not comfortable with’ and ‘this is a bit of a sensitive question’ is a great way to ensure they are comfortable.

Mental health

Starting clinical years can be very nerve racking AND IT’S COMPLETELY NORMAL! It is a big change. There is a lot of support in and out of university. Medical schools often have their own student pastoral service. They understand the medical students' experience and can give great and specific help. Speaking to someone can be daunting but they are there to support you. Your University will most likely have some sort of counselling service that can provide support that can be in the form of one to one, group or online sessions such as CBT. If you feel that you want to speak to someone outside of university, speaking to your GP can be helpful, they have a variety of support they can offer. Speaking to friends can also be useful. Other medics will have gone through the same thing and understand your feelings and may have advice.

It’s easy to feel like a small fish in a big pond. But it gets better, you’ll learn, get to know people on your ward, and how the system works, where things are etc and it won’t feel as big anymore.

Blog Post written by Akashaa Rebab

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