Year 1 Placement Advice

On top of your e-portfolio and the fact you’ll have just finished your exams, I imagine that, like any rational human being, you’re feeling somewhat nervous about going to a hospital lab/clinic and being thrown into a role that you are unfamiliar with. Having done this and emerged at the other side of my first placement in one piece, hopefully I can offer some words of advice, as you should find your placement an extremely fun and rewarding experience.

Keep yourself busy. If there’s something to see, ask if you can watch it. If there’s a test to perform and you feel confident enough to do it, then volunteer. If you don’t feel confident yet, then ask to observe. If there’s a lull in the clinic volume, then work on your profile. If you do these things, you’ll impress your mentors and get your work done.

Above all (I cannot stress this enough) just remember that you aren’t expected to know everything. There’s always a tendency to want to jump straight in and show your mentors everything that you have learned in the university labs, and that’s fine: you’ve worked hard and osmotically absorbed a ton of information; why shouldn’t you show off your skills?

Just remember that whilst the procedural guidelines are the same from trust to trust, every hospital is different. Take a day (or three) to observe the way your mentor talks to patients, the order in which they do things and what happens after each test is complete. These people have often been doing the job you want for a long time, so watching and emulating them is a goldmine when it comes to  developing techniques.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Within reason, there is no question that will make you appear stupid. The more you ask, the more you will learn.

Performing spirometry and ECGs on each other in the labs at the university is an entertaining experience, but when you are out on placement and performing these on real patients, being observed by real Healthcare Scientists, you’ll notice that it’s completely different ballgame. Nearly everyone I’ve spoken with has said that it felt as though they were starting from scratch; almost like they hadn’t done any of it before, so don’t worry! Take it slowly, only do things when you feel comfortable doing them and don’t feel pressured into taking the reigns on a test until you’re confident to do so. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you settle in.

Lastly, I’ll offer some advice that is borne of an even more personal experience than everything I’ve said previously. My respiratory placement I found to be much more challenging than that of cardiology and by all accounts, I am not alone in this. The cardiac testing you’ll preform is essentially, all down to you, the practitioner. Aside from a patient meeting the required level of undress, there isn’t a great deal else they’ll have to do (except possibly get off of the examination couch). Spirometry, however, requires a certain symbiosis between patient and scientist. The forced breathing manoeuvre must be coaxed out of the patient, who will highly likely have difficulty breathing normally as it is. Combine this challenge with setting up the equipment, learning to use the software, asking about their medications  and talking to the patient normally whilst you do all of these things, and you’re given a lot of important things to remember. To combat this, I broke the entire 10-15 minute test down into sections. I did a bit more of the test each time, with my mentor taking over from me at a pre-arranged juncture, gaining more feedback after each test until I could do the entire test myself, and not only that, I could do it well.

This may work for you, it may not, but I feel it’s better to have more than one strategy when you go into the unknown.

Thanks and have fun!