Shadows on the Ward: Perpectives of a prospective Student
Abdubadie Kutbi UCD School of Medicine, University College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland
Throughout the majority of my education I have wanted to become a doctor. Fresh into A-levels this was a common goal. The majority of my fellow students in sixth form aspired to study medicine. Entry into medical schools in the United Kingdom is often difficult but, as an international student it is nearly impossible. Most U.K. medical schools allocate a mere 7.5% of their places for students from outside the European Union. I knew I had to be very special to attract the attention of the admissions officers, and what better way to do that than to have direct experience in a healthcare environment.
Acting on my school mentor’s advice, I managed to secure a placement in a private London hospital in the oncology ward. Volunteering in hospital or a medical setting proved difficult to arrange but, I hoped it would help my application and indicate that I had a feel for the professional life of a doctor. Honestly speaking, that did not mean much to me at the time. My ideas about medicine were far from accurate. In my mind, doctors worked exclusively with patients, hadn’t much paperwork to file, and only had to write short reports. Basically, medics were consultants providing only a diagnosis and an intervention. My experience knocked me back into reality, but we’ll get to that later.
I did not fully appreciate that hospitals are bureaucratic institutions and if the paper work isn’t in order, the patient is directly affected.
I quickly found that working in hospital was very different from visiting a hospital. Even though the patients and their staff share the same surroundings, their outlooks are completely different. I presume this is the same in every profession, however this was a new realization for me. As a ‘staff member’ you are liable for every word you say, and every action you take. The nurses constantly reminded me of the need for professionalism, and that I was a representative of the hospital. While they were very pleasant they were also very serious when it came to these matters and clearly sceptical about having an untrained, unqualified, and clueless sixth former in their wards.
I started the week learning a crucial but tedious task, paperwork. Specifically, I spent the day organising patient files. It was a long process, and I had to learn about different coloured slips and reports, which sheets needed to be shredded, how reports were ordered in a file, etc. The exercise was educational and tiring. I did not fully appreciate that hospitals are bureaucratic institutions and if the paper work isn’t in order, the patient is directly affected. This exercise also showed the incredible contribution made to patient care by administrative staff that take care of patient records.
The next few days were spent shadowing the nurses. I observed several procedures, the highlights of which were a bone marrow biopsy and the fitting of a stereotactic surgical frame on a patient undergoing gamma knife radiotherapy. Gamma knife therapy is type of radiosurgery that is performed mainly to treat brain tumours. It involves passing up to 200 beams of gamma radiation through the brain. Each beam alone has a minimal effect on healthy tissue, but the point at which they meet (the tumour) is where the effects are observed.
Later the nurses arranged for me to sit down with a cardiology registrar during his lunch break. We discussed my realizations from the past few days including the realities of day-to-day patient care and how difficult it is just to keep patients in a consistent condition, never mind make them better. In the process, the doctor scrubbed away some of the glamour attached to the career. He described the financial state of clinicians during the initial years of their career, emphasising that there is less money in medicine than most people think. Keeping this in mind, what keeps him going is the satisfaction and pride taken in a job well done. I had a taste of this pride whenever I assisted the nurses. I was once asked to translate for an Arabic speaking patient as the hospital translator was caught up elsewhere but, even if the task was to push something out of the way or hand something over, the satisfaction was limitless.
As my placement drew to an end, I noticed that everyone I observed or spoke with had moments where they would rather be anywhere but the hospital. Despite this, there were rewarding moments too and these made it worth the effort. There were times where the patients thanked staff regardless of outcomes, when the patients and staff formed friendships and, ultimately, times where patients left healthier and happier as a result of staff efforts. Those were moments of deep satisfaction, and I had the honour of experiencing moments like these. Ultimately, it changed the way I thought about medicine. In the end, I formed a better perspective on whether medicine was right for me. At that time, I decided that it wasn’t and that I would pursue other options.
We discussed my realizations from the past few days including the realities of day-to-day patient care and how difficult it is just to keep patients in a consistent condition, never mind make them better.
At the end of my AS level year, I was offered a place to study law in London, however I couldn’t envision the same feeling of satisfaction and content that I saw embedded in medicine. I was advised to consider Ireland as an option for attending university and, after investigating the options presented to me, I subsequently made my application for UCD. I’m still not entirely sure about medicine as a profession, but one thing I am certain of is that whatever I go through in the 6 or 5 years I spend in UCD and all the years that follow, it will be worth it; it’s cliché, but it’s true.