NHS Work Placements

Our aspiring Oncologist shares his NHS work experiences and reflects on how these placements have helped shaped his choice to study medicine at university.

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It is a taunting yet seemingly simple question that follows us throughout our lives. My own life experiences coupled with my passion for science have lead me to consider a career in Medicine, specifically cancer research. However, as a scientist I realised that in order to make a well-informed decision, I would first need to experience what I’d be getting myself into.

I decided that I didn’t want a myopic and shallow view of medicine but instead I wanted to experience a wide range of specialties to appreciate their importance and so I embarked on a long, soul-searching journey through four work experience placements.

My week’s placement at Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham gave me an insight into the coordination required within a multi-disciplinary team (MDT). Observing an MDT meeting in the haematology department which included: microbiologists, consultants and the Advanced Nurse Practitioners outlined the reliance of healthcare on good teamwork and leadership. My week included observing a diverse range of both medical and surgical specialties, such as in orthopedics and trauma where I was able to witness a total knee replacement and an arthroscopy; a minimally invasive procedure whereby an endoscope is inserted into the joint through a small incision to examine and treat the joint.

At the Bart’s Health Lab in London, I was fortunate enough to explore other facets of medicine such as Pathology and Molecular Cytogenetics. Here I was able to appreciate and understand the important role that diagnostics play in healthcare. This was especially apparent in the cases where biopsies were being analysed, either post or pre-operatively, to identify the progression and prognosis of a tumour. Witnessing the sheer dedication of the pathologists in the Lab whilst also completing urgent examinations was truly remarkable.

Spending a week at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire shadowing a Professor of Endocrinology and Diabetes Advance nurse specialists gave me a special insight into challenges facing medicine, especially with the long-term management of chronic diseases such as diabetes. I was able to discuss and challenge my scientific understanding of the underlying aetiology (cause) of diabetes as well as the multiple approaches taken to try and manage this condition long term.

The progressive shift from a paternalistic approach of care towards shared decision-making was apparent during my GP placement. The role of the GP is not to simply enforce a certain treatment but to inform the patient of the available options, including the associated risks and benefits. This builds a level of trust between the doctor and patient, which is central to primary care.

After these experiences, I was inspired to start my own cancer research project on targeted glioblastoma therapy using recombinant monoclonal antibodies. I’m looking forward to completing a research work placement at University College London’s Zebrafish Lab in October, where I’ll be able to explore animal model systems for research in many areas including: embryonic development, genetic analyses of disease, neural circuit function and behaviour.

I found that my work experience to date has affirmed and strengthened my resolve to study medicine. Perhaps most importantly, I feel well-informed about making the decision to apply to study medicine, as I know that I have experienced the field without the rose-tinted spectacles and without the glamour that both the media and society portray as existing in the field of medicine.