Last 4 weeks of medical school – Orthopaedic Surgery

October 20 – November 13, 2014

Ending medical school with a specialty I had been dreading… Orthopaedic surgery. Crazy hours, macho surgeons, and an intense knowledge of anatomy required were only some of the things I had been warned about.

Needless to say, I found none of the above true and in fact, extremely enjoyed my ortho term. There were 5 other students in my group and we were based at a smaller hospital especially known for elective hip and knee replacements. We were split into smaller groups of 1-2 students and assigned to an ortho surgery team. There were 3 doctors on my team, a consultant, a senior registrar and an intern – and I was very appreciative of each person, in particular, our consultant.

He started every face to face encounter throughout the day (even after coming back from lunch) with a smile on his face and the words, “So, did you do any reading? What did you learn? Why don’t you tell me all about it?” In response to our answers, he would ask us questions and provide us with more teaching. He was always kind and non judgmental, even if you didn’t know the easiest answers. His continuous interest and support in our learning was the push students (like myself) sometimes needed to really become interested in what we learning. Although the registrar had a different style of teaching, he was the same. There was never any time we spent with our team, whether that be in clinic, in theatre, or even on coffee break, that we didn’t gain more knowledge.

Even though I am not interested in pursuing surgery, for the first time in a long time, I felt useful and wanted in theatre. The team would encourage us to come to theatre and rather than leave us to watch silently and awkwardly in a corner (the bane of medical students’ existence sometimes), we were always asked to scrub in and assist. Even if we weren’t assisting, the team would continuously ask questions and teach during the surgeries, which was great.

I really thought Orthopaedic surgery would be my least favourite rotation, especially with less interest in surgery and my subpar anatomy – but I have to say, these last 4 weeks of medical school have only bettered the two. I’m looking forward to my surgical terms next year when I’m finally working and I have to say my anatomy is heaps better now!

My last rotation ended with 2 MCQ exams on Nov 13 (a day earlier due to the G20 public holiday) – one 50 question ophthalmology exam and another 50 question Orthopaedic exam. Despite walking out of the exam with the trembling thought of, “Oh my god, that was so much harder than I anticipated,” I’m happy to say that our results have seen been released and I got an excellent mark – so stoked!

We didn’t have time to lament awaiting our surg exam results though, as we had OSCEs to study for, which I will talk about in my next post 🙂

Obstetrics & Gynaecology: The wrap up

It’s only been 2 weeks since my O&G rotation ended but it already feels like ages ago.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time on Obstetrics & Gynaecology. I have to say thank you to the other 4, lovely students on my team: Darice, Sam, Roger and Michael (not my partner) – for your support and for being so fun to work with. There was always a joke to share or something to laugh about. And more importantly, we shared knowledge and learned heaps from each other. Thank you especially to Darice for driving me all the way home so many times in the evening! You are such wonderful company and I hope you are enjoying your time back in Singapore!

So, final exams…

O&G had 3 consecutive days of exams, how did they go?

(Note: Sorry, this might turn out to be a little long. I’m trying to put everything down to look back on in the future!)

Wednesday, May 07

A written multiple choice question (MCQ) exam. 60 questions, 30 gynae and 30 obstetric. I think there was a collective ‘what the hell happened feeling’ after finishing that exam. So much so that the cohort got together and reproduced most, if not all, questions from memory in order to further discuss them. Very dissimilar to the example of a previous exam they provided us, I think many of us felt this MCQ exam did not test fundamental knowledge required for an O&G rotation. In addition, there was unequal weighting of topics tested. For example, out of 30 obstetric questions, 3 of them (10%) asked about oxytocin – a drug used in active management of third stage labour.

Thursday, May 08

3 Obstetric OSCE stations. Each 8 minutes long and without perusal time. Talk about anxiety!

Station 1: An older lady who is obese, with hypertension on an ACE inhibitor and a previous history of 2 large babies has come in to see you (the GP) because she’s 8 weeks pregnant. The point of this station is to not only address the standard steps of care (confirm pregnancy, blood tests for type + antibodies, Hb, syphilis, Hep B/C, Rubella status, etc, dating scan, folate, diet…) but also to address her specific risk factors (age, obese, previous large babies, all risk factors for gestational diabetes and pre eclampsia, take her off her ACE inhibitor as it is a category D drug, etc).

Station 2: A lady in her late 3rd trimester has come into see you in the Antenatal Clinic with vaginal bleeding and a diffusely tender abdomen/uterus. Morphology scan at 20 weeks showed a fundal placenta – effectively ruling out placenta previa and leaving the likely diagnosis of placental abruption. Important points of this station was to identify the likely cause of bleeding, to admit her for further testing and monitoring of baby, inform theatre and anesthesia of potential need for emergency c-section, etc.

Station 3: A lady has active post partum hemorrhaging. Important points included resuscitation if necessary, discussion of possible causes (atony, retained tissue, trauma, bleeding disorder) and their management options, consenting for theatre and the need to inform the patient of the possibility she might need a hysterectomy.

I found the content of each station to be very fair and expected. However, what really disappointed me, as well as every other student I spoke with, is the lack of standardisation across examiners. For myself, the examiner at Station 1 did not let me speak freely, he only wanted me to specifically answer his questions – some of which did not even relate to a first antenatal visit. As a result, with such time constraints, I did not get a chance to say most of what is expected at such an appointment. When I proceeded to Station 2, every time I paused to think or see if the examiner had any questions, she would loudly say to me, “Don’t let me prompt you! What else do you want to say? Keep going!” She never actually prompted me with anything and I felt her constant berating very distracting and disruptive. Finally at Station 3, the examiner sat in complete silence and let me talk through anything I wanted until I stopped, only then did he ask further questions.

Overall, I think it went okay. I never know how I’ve performed at these types of exams because you are always your biggest critic. I can still think of things I should’ve said or things I could’ve left out.

Friday, May 09

3 Gynaecology OSCE stations. Each 8 minutes long and without perusal.

Station 1: Young lady is referred by GP to you in ED with few weeks history of iliac fossa pain. Ultimately supposed to rule out an ectopic pregnancy and come to the conclusion that likely ruptured ovarian cyst and/or ovarian torsion through discussion of investigations you would order and being given the results.

Station 2: Young woman presents to ED with symptoms of PID, confirmed with investigations. Incidentally, she has acute Hepatitis B. Needed to discuss her medical management including the need for hospital admission, contact tracing, contraception counselling, medical consult for the hepatitis.

Station 3: Vaginal bleeding in an older woman post hysterectomy on the ward. Management including resuscitation, discussion of consent, likely source of bleeding, etc.

Again, similar to the Obstetric cases, the cases presented to us were very fair, however, different standards of examiners across the board again. My examiners at Station 1 and 3 carried a discussion with me, letting me speak but also asking questions and pushing my knowledge, which was very good. My examiner at Station 2 was completely silent and cold, making me even more nervous. We were told multiple times that if we were struggling, not to worry, the examiners will provide prompts or attempt to put you back on track, but that certainly did not happen for me with Station 2.

I felt this was my hardest set of exams so far, mainly because of the quantity of OSCEs we had to perform and the uncertainty of whether I passed or not. I think I excelled at some stations and got a little stumped at a couple others. Marking is also very subjective, so all I can do now is cross my fingers and hope that everything went okay!

After this O&G rotation and as someone who is interested in General Practice/Family Medicine, I definitely think I will love the aspect of women’s health and antenatal care within that career pathway, yay!

And if you’re still here, a toast! To the end of second rotation! With Yoni and Christine 🙂

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Year 4 Medical School: What’s going on!?

Hello friends!

It seems I’ve gotten into the habit of not regularly blogging – arg! I’ll try really hard to fix that, I promise. 🙂

As some of you may know, I’m now in my 2nd week of 4th (and final) year of medical school! My first rotation is Paediatric Medicine, which I’m absolutely loving. I feel quite lucky that all the doctors and staff we have come across have been kind and more than willing to share their time and teach us. More importantly, parents and their children have been very receptive of students, which makes all the difference in the world, because that’s the only way we learn – on real patients!

Also, babies are so freaking adorable, I can’t get over it. 

With that being said, I’ve also been quite busy and stressed out. 

During the day, I’m in the hospital on my rotation. When I get home, I have to put all my focus into studying for the Medical Council of Canada Evaluating Examination (MCCEE), which Mike and I will be writing on February 28th in Melbourne. That’s less than 6 weeks away! 😦 

The MCCEE is the first big step that we Canadians Studying Abroad (CSA) or International Medical Graduates (IMG) need to take in order to be eligible to apply for a training/residency program in Canada once we graduate. It is a daunting 180 multiple choice question exam that covers 5 broad topics: Child Health, Maternal Health, Adult Health, Mental Health, and Population Health and Ethics. 

Needless to say, we are freaking out. There’s so much to know, in so little time. The most challenging part is studying for Maternal Health when we won’t have actually started, let alone complete, our Obstetrics and Gynaecology rotation yet. 

The good news is, our leave from Feb 26-28 has been approved! That means we will be flying down to Melbourne on the 26th and have 2 dedicated days to study before our exam on the 28th. And then we will have a weekend to explore and see Melbourne, yay! 

Until then, study! 🙂 

Mental Health: What’s the deal?

Wow,

I am terribly behind with my regular blogging! 😦 There’s no excuse, but it’s been busy and blogging about our recent vacation took a lot longer than usual.

So what’s the deal with school now?

Well, I’m 5 weeks into my Mental Health rotation, and yes, I’m quite enjoying it! By random luck (or is it bad luck? Haha), both Mike and I got placed as the only 2 students at a private mental health hospital in Brisbane.

The experience so far has been very enlightening. We found it initially daunting and awkward learning to take a psychiatric history from patients and formulating our thoughts. The feeling is quite similar to being in first year again, learning how to take a medical history and talk to patients. Fortunately, we’ve gained a lot more confidence in the last few weeks. Taking a medical history is like second nature to us now, hopefully taking a psychiatric history will, in time, feel the same.

We are humbled and grateful every time a patient agrees to talk to us or allows us to sit in during a consultation. If you think about it, these people are sharing with us, complete (not yet qualified) strangers, the most personal aspects of their lives. Some people have been victims of sexual and/or physical abuse, others have gone through great losses, some struggle with their spouses having affairs, while others have thoughts of self harm and have even tried to kill themselves. Every single patient we’ve met has taught us something, in some way, that we could never learn from a textbook.

Every patient we’ve met has a different story and is fighting a different battle. One of the first and biggest challenges for us has been, “How do we talk to these patients? How do we approach sensitive topics in a way that will not be upsetting?” We quickly learned that despite all the differences, these patients are all still the same in one way: Like you and I, they are people too.

Talking to patients with mental illness or a difficult life/past can be hard. But it’s not necessary to over-think how to talk to them. As long as you are patient, empathic and a listener, most people will be more than happy to talk to you and share their stories with you.

We also get scheduled teaching time with 3-4 consultants every week, which has been great. They have all been great teachers and we’ve learned so much already! Not just in terms of knowledge aspect, but also plenty of real life stories and experiences – something you can never learn from reading a book.

Have I mentioned we have a great Registrar? Yes, thank goodness! Most of our day is spent with him and the patients. He’s pretty awesome with them and definitely a good role model to try and emulate. As one of our profs said, “Shamelessly steal!” Adapt the styles, sayings and techniques from your seniors and colleagues that can make you a better doctor!

The most scary aspect of Mental Health at this moment? The fact that we are approaching the end of Week 5… only 2 more weeks until final exams. Absolutely crazy. It’s insane how quickly time has gone by!

Post-Surgery… Vacation!

Surgery is officially over, woo hoo!

Our final written exam (worth 70%) was yesterday… 2.5 hours of looong testing-of-knowledge. The exam was certainly challenging, as many of my friends have agreed, but now we just have to sit and wait for our results!

More importantly – on to a one week vacation!

Mike and I were able to score really cheap plane tickets, so we are going overseas for the holiday!

Today, we are going down to Gold Coast.

Tomorrow morning, we are flying out to… Singapore!

Yep, again.

Our super basic itinerary:

  • July 12 – Gold Coast
  • July 13 – Singapore
  • July 14-17 – Bangkok
  • July 17-20 – Singapore

All our flights added up to less than $500, which we thought was a steal! We have already booked all our accommodation but haven’t really finalized our plans of where we want to go and what we want to do yet.

Like usual, I will try to blog whenever I can! If not, there will be tons of photos and posts after we come back 🙂

Have a great weekend everyone! And for those on a holiday like me, have a lovely vacation!

Visiting Fi in Toowoomba!

Kristen, Christine and I went to visit Fiona in Toowoomba last Sunday! What a lovely opportunity to catch up with the girls, how I’ve missed them!

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Fi, our very lovely (and free!) tour guide, took us on a ride around town and we eventually drove up to Preston Peak Wines for lunch. Fun and friendly wine tasting but a limited lunch menu. The location was beautiful and peaceful, it’s too bad the sun wasn’t out for very long!

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The day was short and soon we were on our way back to Brisbane. With exams coming up, we left with the promise to be back for a hiking and boardgames day – looking forward to it!

Until then, surgery study time!

The “REALLY COOL” car we saw during the drive home:

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Picked up a little something for Michael, a bottle of fortified wine. Golden Gleam – Fortified pristine White Muscat juice. Lychee and marmalade characteristics; a very fruity wine. 🙂

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My Ways of Being a Better Medical Student

I believe trying to observe the following makes me a better student doctor.

Here are My Ways of Being a Better Medical Student:

(Didn’t realize this post would be so long, so I added some pictures from the internet. Photos are linked to their sources!)

Always introduce yourself – to patients and to other staff members. You’ll be meeting people all the time, under a variety of circumstances, at all times of the day. It is only polite and respectful to let everyone know who you are – even just in case you’re not even wanted! It has happened to me a number of times, sometimes patients just want medical students to sit out from consults. It can definitely be awkward, even scary, to find the opportunity to introduce yourself but you just have to man up, find an opening, and do it! Trust me, I know first hand how awkward it feels, especially when it’s one of your registrars or consultants you’re finally seeing for the first time (maybe during rounds) but completely ignoring you. But, more often than not after introducing myself, people will treat me differently – I’m no longer invisible and even addressed by name, who would’ve thought! 😉

Say hello when passing others, and smile. It takes no effort from you and can brighten someone’s day. Win win.

Don’t gossip. And if you must, do it outside the professional environment and out of earshot from everyone else. It makes you look unprofessional and you never know who might be listening. The medical world is small and word can travel fast – don’t sink yourself! You never know who you will cross paths with again and that one person you bad-mouthed could end up being your preceptor, your examiner, etc. If there’s someone I particularly don’t like, I always try to find someone else more constructive to my learning and morale and spend my time with them instead.

Never be afraid to ask questions. It shows you are listening, processing information and are willing to learn. Some people are great teachers and love the opportunity to share their knowledge – they’re just waiting for you to take initiative. Of course, with that being said, there’s always a proper time and place for questions. If someone is having a heart attack, no one wants to hear, “Could you show me how to read the ECG?” And you should really have enough common sense not to ask “stupid” questions that will only make you look bad. If you’re a 3rd year medical student asking, “What’s aortic stenosis again?” you are going to be in big trouble and look ridiculous!

Never be afraid to say “I don’t know.” I have no problems saying, “I’m sorry I don’t know, could you show/tell me?” when I really don’t have a clue how to answer a question I’ve been asked. If I can give an educated guess, I do, but otherwise, there is also nothing wrong with, “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten, could you remind me?” Sure it’s embarrassing for you, but you will learn on the spot and/or never forget that information again. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve heard, “That’s okay, this way you learn and won’t forget again!” For example, the other week, my surg team was commenting on the long half life of the drug Rutiximab (21 days). The registrar then says, “At least it’s not as bad as Amiodorone! Sandra, what’s the half life of Amiodorone?” I laughed (as if I would know this) and replied, “I know it’s more than 21 days!” Now I will never forget Amiodorone has an extremely long and varied half life of 25-100 days. However, not knowing the answer should happen much less than 50% of the time you are asked questions, otherwise, you don’t know enough and you should go study!

Learn as much as you can on the spot. At this point in our lives, we’re not going to have our hands held and be told what to study. Pay attention on the wards and learn as much as you can – that’s often the useful stuff that you can’t learn as easily from textbooks. Bring paper or a notebook and jot down all the things you learn throughout the day. Write down topics that come up which you need to go home and read up about – follow through with it. Interns are a wealth of knowledge, it wasn’t too long ago they were in the same position as you, ask them questions and listen to their suggestions.

Be keen and willing to learn. Someone who shows they want to learn will be taught more and given more responsibilities. Put in the time and effort you think is necessary for you to reach your learning goals. Ask to participate and ask for opportunities to practice your clinical skills or to broaden your knowledge. Try not to decline a learning opportunity that comes up.

Be that medical student you would want to be partnered with. It’s great when you’re paired with another student who’s friendly, encouraging and easy to get along with, who’s knowledgeable but not cocky, who helps you learn without stealing your thunder, who can shine without throwing you under the bus, who’s not the super keener but not a lazy bum, who’s respectful of patients and confidentiality, etc. But it’s even more important to try and be that person for others. You surround yourself with the people you deserve, so be deserving! 🙂

Bake. Everybody loves home baked goods. If you can bake, you should share that deliciousness. No one will fault you, people will love you.

Keep up with your studying. Cramming doesn’t work anymore. Unfortunately, you have to remember everything you learn and build upon it. It’s hard, I know, I’m continuously working on this point.

Eating is important. But don’t just eat, eat healthy – your body will thank you. Also keep snacks on you – granola bars, nuts, chocolate, etc. They will save your life when you are too busy to take a break.

Get enough sleep. If you function well with 5 hours of sleep, that’s great. If you need 7 hours – make sure you get it. That also means you need to time manage well. Don’t sacrifice your studying or your eating time to make more room for sleep. You really need a balance.

Do things that make you happy. Keep up with your hobbies, take up new ones, see your friends, have quality time with your partner, take time for yourself to rest and relax. Otherwise, you will be lonely, stressed, and crazy.

I’m sure there are lots more that I can’t think of at the moment! 🙂

What about you? Do you have any tips?