A week as a student doctor: ‘Witnessing journeys from illness to health is inspiring’
Michael Ryan (21) is a student doctor in his final year at the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland
Michael Ryan: ‘Getting to help bring new life into the world, being the first person to hold a new human as they take their first breath of air was a huge privilege.’
I am in my fourth year as a medical student at RCSI and this year involves undertaking five six-week rotations in the major branches of medicine – obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, psychiatry, general practice and medicine/surgery. Each of these will be followed by an exam, both at the end of the oration and then again at the end of the year.
I have just completed my paediatrics rotation, which involved spending time at the Rotunda Hospital, the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street and Cavan General Hospital.
Then I started my general practice rotation, so I am mainly based at college for lectures. My day normally starts about 6am as I like to have a little time in the morning to relax around the house before walking, where possible, to wherever I am based that week. Getting that somewhat small amount of exercise before I start helps to clear my head and allows me to start the day fresh and alert.
My daily routine really does vary with the rotation I am on. Usually I am at the hospital for about 8am or 9am, where we will either have a teaching session or there will be clinical activities such as clinic, theatre or ward rounds taking place. As I spend more time on placement, I am increasingly finding that the more I put into my day, the more I get out of it.
Spending an extra hour around the wards or staying until the end of a long clinic can really benefit the learning experience, which is especially important as intern year looms ever closer. I also need to make sure that my logbook for that rotation is being completed. This is a list of tasks, competencies and cases that I have seen and presented, which will ensure that I am meeting the aims and objectives of the rotation in question.
What I do on a daily basis really varies from placement to placement. Every day would have some history taking and examination, whether I’m on the wards or in clinic. Some placements are strictly in a supervised manner, but I have on occasion been given my own room in a clinic with my own patients to see and to figure out what is wrong. I would then come up with a management plan, which would be checked and signed off by a senior colleague before being implemented.
The amount of practical procedures we get to perform is really dependant on how willing we are to ask to be involved. I’ve been able to site catheters, a central line and even ventilate someone, all under strict supervision.
All students have to be actively involved in the delivery of three babies, which occurs in an almost legendary period dubbed Labour Week. This was probably the best experience of my life, getting to help bring new life into the world, being the first person to hold a new human as they take their first breath of air was a huge privilege.
I haven’t witnessed anyone passing away yet and it is something that I’m really not sure how I will cope with when it does inevitably happen, but it’s all part of the job.
My working day finishes about 5pm or 6pm and, after grabbing a bite to eat, I usually head to the library to catch up on study. We have examinations every seven weeks this year so there is very little time to relax between one set of exams finishing and the next set beginning.
I am usually home most evenings by 9pm or 10pm and often am so exhausted that I’ll go straight to bed. If I’m not so tired I’ll catch up on some TV shows or read a few chapters of my book (I’ve been trying and failing to read War and Peace for the past year), but usually I will be asleep by 11pm to be ready for the next day.
The best part of being a medical student is the inherent privilege that you are afforded by the general population of Ireland. You are allowed to witness and often take part in people’s care when they are at their most vulnerable; the responsibilities of which cannot be understated.
Being able to witness their journeys – especially in the sickest of people – from illness to health is inspiring and encourages me to keep working towards a career in this profession.
I suppose it makes sense that, conversely, one of the most difficult parts of my degree course is learning to accept that not everyone is going to get better. Not taking that home with you in the evening can be quite tough but learning that skill, for want of a better word, is an essential part of this.
The other difficult part of this course is the intense workload. There are always exams, assignments, presentations and logbooks to be completed and the time for a normal college student life is limited at best and simply non-existent most of the time.
It is often very difficult to keep in contact with my friends, both due to the geographical distance between us, but also because of the weird and wonderful timetable which I can often have.
I will graduate in June 2017. My final marks started accumulation last year. We are graded on a combination of continuous assessment and final exams both this year and next.
Witnessing people at both their best and worst and helping them to get better is why all the work, stress and lack of any form of normal student life is worth it. There was nothing else that I really wanted to do when I was initially filling out my CAO form and there is certainly nothing else that I could imagine myself doing now.
Out of hours
Days off are few and far between unfortunately but when I do have them I try to go home to Carlow as much as possible. It’s always nice to get back to the quietness and calm of home, to get to see the mountains and be with my younger siblings especially.
Running has become an important way for me to relax. I got into it only in the past year, but I find it increasingly important in allowing me to unwind after a long day of placement and study. Just putting on my headphones and pounding out a few kilometres helps me forget about the stresses of college, as well as making me feel less guilty about the general lack of exercise in my life otherwise.