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What should medical students do during a winter crisis?

BMJ 2019; 364 doi: (Published 11 February 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;364:l518
  1. Marika Davies, freelance journalist

Clinical students may feel the strain of winter pressures during placements, but be ready for opportunities to practise key skills and to help the team within your competence

During the winter of 2017-18 the NHS struggled to cope with the number of patients seeking care. Elective lists and outpatient clinics were cancelled, ambulances queued outside emergency departments, and the BMA said it was the worst winter on record.1 Doctors’ leaders raised concerns about decreased training opportunities for junior doctors,2 and in some areas medical schools asked clinical students to step in and help, prompting some to worry about exploitation and safety.3 Clinical students may wonder how their training might be affected and what they should and should not do during a crisis.

Winter pressures are acutely noticeable to a medical student on clinical placement, says Declan Murphy, a final year medical student at Norwich Medical School, but he is positive that the demand on services can bring opportunities for students to develop their clinical acumen. “The increased influx of patients provides an opportunity for students to practise procedural skills that are integral to the role of a foundation year doctor,” he says.

“Get stuck in”

Medical students should not stay out of the way during the winter pressures, says Vikky Morris, a consultant geriatrician at Taunton and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust. “Get stuck in,” she says, “there are plenty of opportunities to help.” Depending on their competence and what stage of their training they are at, Morris suggests students might be able to write notes, request blood tests, find charts on ward rounds, get blood taking equipment, and take blood.

Giles Bond-Smith, a consultant general surgeon at …

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