My first GP placement as a medical student

Tahmeena Amin is a Year 1 student on the Medicine MBChB course at Manchester. She blogs here about her experience of undertaking her first placement at a GP practice – and coming into contact with patients for the first time – as part of the course.

As you’ve probably guessed from the title, I recently attended my first ever GP placement as a medical student.

I had been to a couple of GP placements when I was in college in preparation for my medical school application, so anticipated that my experience would be something similar. I was right; it was in fact quite similar to my work experience.

However the main difference was that as part of the placement, me and my clinical partner had the opportunity to have a chat with a patient together, which is something that I haven’t had a chance to do before!

Oh, and another thing that was different this time is that the GP was saying this a lot…

“Do you mind if the medical student sits in?”

…as opposed to “Do you mind if the student on work experience sits in?”, which felt a bit odd…still not used to being called a medical student!

Stethoscope

We did also observe some general consultations (including the consultation with the patient we spoke with); however, I won’t dwell on those in this blog post, but will instead write a little bit about how I found my first patient encounter.

The patient that we spoke with was an elderly gentleman who is a regular patient of the GP that we were assigned with. He came to the practice to discuss his blood test results. It was found that his blood sugar levels were really high, so much so that it was on the borderline of what a diabetic person’s blood glucose would be.

Upon exploring why this might be the case, it transpired that it was because he was having lots of fruit on his cereal in the morning (especially grapes and berries) because he thought he was being healthy. The doctor had to explain to him that the body doesn’t discriminate against what type of sugar it is receiving – so, sugar from a Mars bar would be perceived by the body in the same way as sugar from say, grapes.

I couldn’t help but find this situation really sweet; the patient clearly meant well and thought he was doing what would be good for his body, but in actual fact wasn’t. I think it’s in situations like this where gentle, health education is required, from the GP to his patient.

Interacting with a patient for the first time

Anyway, after the consultation, the GP sorted us out a separate room where we could go and talk to this particular patient and find out more about him and his life experiences. I’ll admit I was bit nervous as to whether or not the conversation would flow, especially because it’s two of us students talking to one patient, rather than a 1:1 conversation. However I thought it actually went pretty well.

The gentleman was so lovely and jolly and spoke to us about how he had had a brain haemorrhage many years ago, when he was just in his 20s, which was closely followed by a stroke that left his right side paralysed.

He told us that he had to learn how to walk, talk and drive again after the stroke and when I asked him whether he received support from the hospital to do these things or whether he was just left to his own devices, he replied that unfortunately it was the latter. Although that wasn’t what I expected or wanted to hear, at least it can be said that healthcare and rehabilitation for stroke patients has progressed since then. It must have taken a great deal of dedication to do all that without any kind of specialist support.

He also spoke about the impact the stroke had on his family. When he had the stroke, he was married with two young children – daughters aged 4 and 1. He said that as he had lost a lot of weight during his stay in hospital, his 4-year-old daughter found it difficult to look at him. I’m obviously not a parent, but I imagine this would have been quite a difficult thing to experience.

Getting on with it

What really struck me about this man was his enthusiasm, dedication and thirst for life. He kept repeating that “you just get on with it” when speaking about how he dealt with the consequences of the stroke. He seemed to be coping really well: he could walk, drive and his speech was not impaired, not that I could tell anyway. The only visible sign of his stroke was his right arm, which was paralysed.

I can imagine that with something that can be as debilitating as a stroke, it’s easy just to give up and let it consume you, but this man chose to not let it define him and instead chose to, as he said, “get on with life”. He even volunteers for a stroke support service, which I found quite cool!

One of the questions my clinical partner asked was whether the stroke prevents him from doing anything that he used to enjoy doing before the stroke. To this he answered that he used to be a keen sportsman before, but of course, as he doesn’t have any motility in his right arm, it is quite difficult to play sports now. However, he does try to go swimming, which he enjoys and finds quite therapeutic. This made me appreciate how much a significant event in someone’s health can actually impact all aspects of their life, and not just their physical health.

I really enjoyed talking to this man; he was so happy and just a pleasure to talk to. Although I only met him briefly, I thought he was quite an inspiration. “Just getting on with it” rather than complaining about circumstances is a motto I hope to live by, whatever life throws at me!

This post originally appeared on Tahmeena’s own blog, Diary of a Student Medic.

Find out more about placements on the Medicine MBChB course at Manchester.

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