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Placement Tips for Physician Associate Students

With only 2 years to cram all the knowledge and skills a Physician Associate needs, you really need to make the most of your placements. There is so much to be learnt from ward rounds, to clerking patients, to clinical skills. Here are some tips on how to make it count.

#1 Read up on your speciality

Once you know which department you’ll be in for placement, try to get ahead and do some reading on that speciality whether its Cardiology, Respiratory or General Surgery. By knowing things like common presentations, special investigations and procedures, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s happening and be in a better position to learn. It also gives you a chance to show off during the ward round when the consultant asks you questions. It’s a great feeling when you unexpectedly answer a question correctly.

#2 Introduce yourself

It can be quite scary being a Physician Associate student on placement. You’re in a new environment where no one knows who (and sometimes what) you are, abbreviations are being tossed around and you have no idea what’s happening half the time. Fear not, many of us have been there and survived. The best thing you can do is not let yourself get ignored. Always introduce yourself to the team, that includes nurses not just doctors. It makes a good first impression and means they’ll know to come and get you when bloods/cannulas/NG tubes etc need doing. Win, win.

#3 Get Involved

If anyone asks you to do something within your remit always say yes! Even if you’re not sure just be honest and say that you’ll need help/someone to show you first. People are always grateful when you take work off their hands and they will remember you for it. Plus, the only way to get better at your skills is to practice. Similarly, if you hear about something interesting that’s happening e.g. a lumbar puncture or a central line, always ask if you can watch even if it’s not a skill you need to know. It shows that you’re interested and there will always be something to learn from it. Plus as the PA role broadens it horizons, it could be you doing that central line in a few years. The more you get involved, the keener the team will be to have you around.

#4 Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know'

Once people get to know who you are and what you can do, you will start getting requests! Staff will ask you to read ECGs, interpret investigation results, carry out procedures etc. Some you will be familiar with, some not so much. Its ok not to know everything, there are ways to turn these things into positives. For example, you can say ‘I don’t know what that is/how to do that, but I’d like to learn, can you explain/show me?’. The same goes for when you get asked questions, if you don’t know the answer just say, ‘I don’t know but I will do some reading on this and let you know’.

#5 Ask Questions

The amount of times I was asked on placement ‘do you understand?’ and I’d answer with an unconvincing nod. ‘Any questions?’ and I’d shake my head despite the fact that I had no idea. Yes, this might save you embarrassment in that moment, but your lack of understanding will get found out sooner or later. Instead, just ask there and then. ‘what does PVD stand for?’, ‘What is a TOE?’, ‘Why are we ordering a CT head for this patient?’ By asking these questions you’ll have that light-bulb moment quicker and this will make your life so much easier. Even Consultants ask what abbreviations stand for and one day you’ll be able to give them the answer because you yourself asked it.

#6 Ask for Feedback

You may spend 3 weeks on a placement, you might spend 8 weeks on a placement. Either way, you’ve got to make a positive impact because these are your potential future employers. I spent my second placement of 1st year in Cardiology, where I’m currently employed. When it comes to the end of placement, make sure you arrange a meeting with your supervisor and get feedback. This way, you’ll know what you’ve done well and what you need to work on for your next placement. It can also be important for you to give feedback on your experience as a student so the department can work at improving placements for future students.

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