I’m a klutz. Always have been. Probably always will be. I blame my clumsiness on the fact that I didn’t crawl. Apparently I was sitting around one day and toddling on two feet the next. Whatever the cause, it’s a well-tested fact that I’m not good on icy footpaths. Various parts of my anatomy have gotten up close and personal with frozen ground on many an occasion. Not usually an issue for a born-and-bred Australian, except when said Australian goes to visit her Canadian family during the northern winter.
During one such visit, I found myself unceremoniously plopped onto slick ice while my two-year-old niece frolicked around me with sure-footed abandon. I thought, “There has to be an easier way.” As freezing water seeped through my jeans, providing a useful cold pack for my screaming coccyx, my memory was jogged.
I recalled that a lateral-thinking group of New Zealand researchers had won the Ignoble Prize for Physics for demonstrating that wearing socks on the outsides of shoes reduces the incidence of falls on icy footpaths. To the amusement of my niece, I tried out the theory for myself on the walk home. I don’t know if I had a more secure foothold or not, but I did manage to get blisters from wearing sneakers without socks.
I love socks. They cover my large, ungainly clod-hoppers and keep my toes toasty warm almost all year round. You know the song ‘You can leave your hat on.’? Well for me, it is more a case of ‘You can leave your socks on, especially in winter. There’s nothing unromantic about that… is there?
I’m not, however, as attached to my socks as a patient I once treated. As an intern doing a psychiatry rotation, one of my tasks was to do physical examinations on all admissions. Being a dot-the-i’s kinda girl, when an old homeless man declined to remove his socks so that I could examine his feet, I didn’t let it slide.
“I haven’t taken off my socks for thirty years,” he pronounced.
“It can’t be that long. Your socks aren’t thirty years old. In fact, they look quite new,” I countered.
“When the old ones wear out, I just slip a new pair over the top.”
I didn’t believe him. From his odour, I would have believed that he hadn’t showered in thirty years, but the sock story didn’t add up.
He eventually agreed to let me take them off. The top two sock layers weren’t a problem but then I ran into trouble. Black remains of what used to be socks clung firmly to his feet, and my gentle attempts at their removal resulted in screams of agony. I tried soaking his feet. Still no luck. His skin had grown up into the fibres, and it was impossible to extract the old sock remnants without ripping off skin.
In retrospect I probably should have left the old man alone, but instead got the psych registrar to have a peek, who then involved the emergency registrar, who called the surgeon and soon enough the patient and his socks were off to theatre.
The ‘surgical removal of socks’ was not a commonly performed procedure, and it provided much staff amusement. It wasn’t so funny for Mr. Sock Man, who required several skin grafts!
From my perspective here in Canada, while I thoroughly commend the Kiwis for their ground-breaking sock research, I think I’ll stick to the more traditional socks-in-shoes approach, change my socks regularly and work a bit on my coordination skills.
PHYSICS PRIZE: Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest of the University of Otago, New Zealand, for demonstrating that, on icy footpaths in wintertime, people slip and fall less often if they wear socks on the outside of their shoes. "Preventing Winter Falls: A Randomised Controlled Trial of a Novel Intervention," Lianne Parkin, Sheila Williams, and Patricia Priest, New Zealand Medical Journal. vol. 122, no, 1298, July 3, 2009, pp. 31-8.
(This blog post has been adapted from a column first published in Australian Doctor http://www.australiandoctor.com.au/articles/58/0c06f058.asp)
Dr Genevieve Yates is an Australian GP, medical educator, medico-legal presenter and writer. You can read more of her work at http://genevieveyates.com/
Commencing the first clinical year is a milestone. Things will now be different as your student career steers straight into the unchartered waters of clinical medicine. New challenges and responsibilities lie ahead and not just in an academic sense. After all this is the awaited moment, the start of the apprenticeship you have so desired and laboured for. It won’t be long before these clinical years like the preclinical years before them, will seem just as distant and insular, so why not make the most of it?
The first days hold so much excitation and promise and for many they deliver, however, it would be wise not to be too optimistic. I am afraid your firm head standing abreast the doors in a prophetic splaying of arms is an unlikely sight. In this new clinical environment, it is natural to be a little flummoxed. The quizzical looks of doctors and nurses as you first walk in, a sure sign of your unexpected arrival, is a recurring theme. If the wards are going to be your new hunting ground, proper introductions with the medical team are in order. This might seem like a task of Herculean proportions, particularly in large teaching hospitals. Everyone is busy. Junior doctors scuttling around the ward desks job lists in hand, the registrar probably won’t have noticed you and as luck would have it your consultant firm head is away at a conference. Perseverance during these periods of frustration is a rewarding quality. Winning over the junior doctors with some keenness will help you no end. What I mean to say is that their role in our learning as students extends further than the security of sign-off signatures a week before the end of the rotation. They will give you opportunities. Take them! Although it never feels like it at the time, being a medical student does afford some privileges. The student badge clipped to your new clinic clothes is a license to learn: to embark on undying streaks of false answers, to fail as many skills and clerkings as is required and to do so unabashed.
Unfortunately, the junior doctors are not there purely for your benefit, they cannot always spare the time to directly observe a history taking or an examination, instead you must report back. With practice this becomes more of a tick box exercise: gleaning as much information and then reconfiguring it into a structured presentation. However, the performance goes unseen and unheard. I do not need to iterate the inherent dangers of this practice. Possible solutions? Well receiving immediate feedback is more obtainable on GP visits or at outpatient clinics. They provide many opportunities to test your questioning style and bedside manner. Performing under scrutiny recreates OSCE conditions. Due to time pressure and no doubt the diagnostic cogs running overtime, it is fatefully easy to miss emotional cues or derail a conversation in a way which would be deemed insensitive. Often it occurs subconsciously so take full advantage of a GP or a fellow firm mate’s presence when taking a history.
Self-directed learning will take on new meaning. The expanse of clinical knowledge has a vertiginous effect. No longer is there a structured timetable of lectures as a guide; for the most part you are alone. Teaching will become a valued commodity, so no matter how sincere the promises, do not rest until the calendars are out and a mutually agreed time is settled. I would not encourage ambuscaded attacks on staff but taking the initiative to arrange dedicated tutorial time with your superiors is best started early. Consigning oneself to the library and ploughing through books might appear the obvious remedy, it has proven effective for the last 2-3 years after all. But unfortunately it can not all be learnt with bookwork. Whether it is taking a psychiatric history, venipuncture or reading a chest X-ray, these are perishable skills and only repeated and refined practice will make them become second nature. Balancing studying with time on the wards is a challenge. Unsurprisingly, after a day spent on your feet, there is wavering incentive to merely open a book. Keeping it varied will prevent staleness taking hold. Attending a different clinic, brushing up on some pathology at a post-mortem or group study sessions adds flavour to the daily routine. During the heated weeks before OSCEs, group study becomes very attractive. While it does cement clinical skills, do not be fooled. Your colleagues tend not to share the same examination findings you would encounter on an oncology ward nor the measured responses of professional patient actors.
So ward time is important but little exposure to all this clinical information will be gained by assuming a watchful presence. Attending every ward round, while a laudable achievement, will not secure the knowledge. Senior members of the team operate on another plane. It is a dazzling display of speed whenever a monster list of patients comes gushing out the printer. Before you have even registered each patient’s problem(s), the management plan has been dictated and written down. There is little else to do but feed off scraps of information drawn from the junior doctors on the journey to the next bed. Of course there will be lulls, when the pace falls off and there is ample time to digest a history. Although it is comforting to have the medical notes to check your findings once the round is over, it does diminish any element of mystery. The moment a patient enters the hospital is the best time to cross paths. At this point all the work is before the medical team, your initial guesses might be as good as anyone else’s. Visiting A&E of your own accord or as part of your medical team’s on call rota is well worth the effort. Being handed the initial A&E clerking and gingerly drawing back the curtain incur a chilling sense of responsibility. Embrace it, it will solidify not only clerking skills but also put into practice the explaining of investigations or results as well as treatment options. If you are feeling keen you could present to the consultant on post-take.
Experiences like this become etched in your memory because of their proactive approach. You begin to remember conditions associated with patient cases you have seen before rather than their corresponding pages in the Oxford handbook. And there is something about the small thank you by the F1 or perhaps finding your name alongside theirs on the new patient list the following morning, which rekindles your enthusiasm. To be considered part of the medical team is the ideal position and a comforting thought. Good luck.
This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, Freshers 2013 issue.
Being Black in America is dangerous. We hear about the deaths by police shooting or white supremacist - and by gun violence generally, which disproportionately plagues Black communities. But we hardly ever discuss the persistent discrepancy in life expectancy between white and black. There are many ways to attack the latter through healthcare policy and practice -- if we are willing. That remains the question for America 48 years after King was killed.
As part as my paediatrics attachment, I was having peripheral nervous system bed side teaching. We had spoken over the examination and I was first up to practice on 4 year old Jake. One consultant and 3 other medical students looked on as I worked my way through the examination.
My general inspection and impression of the child got approving nods from my colleagues. Phew! Next up was actual exam “two people can’t resist…” I recalled in my head.
First up, tone. I assessed this correctly and nothing had gone majorly wrong yet. Relief. Power was next.
“ok, so put out your arms up like this and resist me…ok, no, not like that..erm..oh god…I don’t know how to explain it”.
My colleagues looked on.
The consultant chipped in “tell him to touch his shoulders”.
It did the trick and I was able to get through the rest of the examination without too many hiccups.
When we had finished, in classic med school fashion I had to reflect on what had just happened and then say something I did good and something I could have done better.
My good thing was “I got through it..I mean I remembered everything”. My bad thing was “I wasn’t good at explaining power to him”.
My feedback wasn’t the same as my bad thing though. My feedback was “be more confident. You did everything correctly and didn't forget anything. I think it’s a girl thing. You doubt yourselves more than the boys”.
Next up was a male medical student’s turn. He did the examination just fine but there were things that I could pick out that he could have done better and being totally objective my examination was better. But there was a major difference. His confidence.
He seemed like he knew what he was doing and when he went wrong or missed something out, he just added it to the end of his examination. If I were his examiner, I would have found it difficult to fault him.
He appeared confident and as a patient that inspires confidence and a happy patient makes for a happy examiner and good marks.
After the session, I got to thinking: am I really incompetent or am I just underestimating my own ability which is making me lack confidence?
The fact that a paediatric consultant and all my colleagues told me that my examination was fine, good even, answers the first part. I am not incompetent. So I must be underestimating my own ability. And if I am, is that something that is unique to me? Or are other medical students doing that too? And more interestingly to me, is this something that the female medical students are doing more than their male colleagues?