It’s 7am on a Saturday and SGH is the last place you want to be after a long week of lectures – we get it. But the HCSW placement is actually a unique opportunity to get some practice on the wards before you’re dropped in at the deep end in third year. As per in Medicine (I know you’re tired of hearing it but it really is true) the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out. See below for a list of our best tips on making the most of your time in your lovely grey polo:
In the early days it can be pretty intimidating to be in an unfamiliar role on the ward – you’ll inevitably spend most of your time either feeling like a spare part or like you’re in the way (or both). Unfortunately this is something you’re going to have to get used to as a medical student in the clinical years! To get through the first awkward couple of shifts, make sure you introduce yourself when you get to the ward, clarify your role and, if they don’t offer, ask to shadow a senior HCA. This is a great way to learn how things are done on your ward and to glean some pearls of wisdom from experienced members of staff you wouldn’t normally meet as a medical student. Be interested and friendly – the more the senior staff get to know you, the more likely they are to trust you with certain jobs.
One of the most common tasks that will need doing is patient obs (usually blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate and sats). Make sure to ask for a patient list at handover – on this list it should say how often each patient needs their obs taken (every 2 hours, every 4 hours, daily etc). Offer to take obs for the whole ward if possible – if the ward is full this may well take up most of your time. This is your chance to get ace at manual blood pressures in time for OSCEs! Many wards use automatic BP machines, but try to track down a good old sphygmomanometer and stethoscope. Other jobs that will need doing are BMs (blood sugar tests), weighing and turning the patients. If you see someone doing these ask if they can teach you, and offer to cover some of their patients. These skills and the paperwork involved are great to know about if you’re thinking of joining the NHSP.
Be proactive and answer patients’ call bells – most of the time this will be something easy you can do yourself, such as emptying their bed pan or refilling their water jug. If it’s something you can’t do yourself or you are unsure, let someone know. Even if there are no call bells to answer go round to patients anyway and ask if there is anything they need. Many patients don’t like to bother the nursing staff with relatively minor things, but they are often easy jobs for you and the patient will be so grateful to you for asking! Alternatively you may land yourself a nice chat with a friendly patient, which is a great way to pass some time (and you can sneak some history-taking practice in there too!).
Weekend afternoons can be especially quiet at the hospital – however patients are often discharged at this time so keep an eye out for beds you can make before another HCA snatches it up. If there really is nothing else to do it’s time to write up your reflections – bring along a notepad and pen to do this, it looks a lot better than sitting in the staff room on your phone. Another way to fill the time is to look through patient notes, get a feel for decrypting doctors’ handwriting and look up any acronyms you don’t understand. Lastly, bring along a few flashcards for when things get really desperate – hopefully this shouldn’t happen if you try hard enough!
If you feel that staff on your ward are preventing you from doing jobs you have been trained to do, please don’t suffer in silence and pop the placements team an email letting them know your situation and the ward you’re on. All wards should have been briefed about the HCSW placement, however there is occasionally some miscommunication – the placements team should be able to smooth this out.
You may have heard about the opportunity to become a Care Support Worker with NHSP after your HCSW placement. The application process can be long, but once you’re in it’s a great little job to have as a medical student. You can work as frequently or infrequently as you want and the money is good, especially if you work at weekends. Perfect for saving up some cash for that big second year summer! Finally, don’t wish your HCSW shifts away. You’re going to be on the ward all day whether you like it or not, and it will be a long eight hours if you spend it feeling fed up. Stay positive, chat to the patient and make friends with the nurses - the time will fly by.