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Starting Out

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Placements help to sharpen career direction

On a recent placement, I found myself despatched to outpatients at Ayr Hospital for a fortnight. Despite a fellow student’s snooty comment that it was ‘hardly cutting-edge stuff’, it was one of the most exciting periods of my degree course. It also sharpened my ideas about what I might do on qualification.

What makes for a successful placement is not always obvious but multiple placements help to clarify where our strengths and interests might lead us. For instance, the first thing that appealed to me in outpatients was the sheer breadth of the activities involved. On arrival,

I was handed a five-day timetable with no less than 10 specialisms in which I would be engaged, undertaking two a day – claudication, DVT, cardiology, type 2 diabetes, wounds and dressings, surgery, rheumatology, respiration, oncology and reconstructive surgery. Some students might not like this variety but, to me,
it was pure joy.

As it happened, the unit was also trialling the viability of running the breast clinic on a one-stop basis. Instead of sending a patient from one specialist to another over several weeks, all the tests were seamlessly done in a single day and a diagnosis swiftly made – saving money, time and beds, and curtailing patient anxiety.

Excitingly, the trial was a success and, shadowing it through every stage, I felt I was being given a glimpse of the future in medicine.

Finally, I saw the value of working with a close-knit team with an exceptional ward sister as leader. Having worked in banking for 19 years, I have always preferred to work with an intelligent and inspirational leader rather than a mere manager, and my experience in outpatients confirmed that good leadership is even more crucial in healthcare than in commerce.

Lesley McHarg is a third-year nursing student in Scotland

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