Nursing Internships for Pre-Medical/Medical/Nursing Students

Posted on April 10, 2011


I am a second year medical student at St George’s University of London. When I became interested in studying medicine at the age of 16, I discovered how difficult it was to gain any valuable work experience. At the time of my first application to university, I had done a week shadowing a GP, weekly volunteering at my local hospital (pushing the sweets trolley around the wards) and a week in a school for children with learning disabilities. At the time, this felt like plenty of work experience and was probably the same amount as most of my peers. After being rejected by all my chosen universities because of poor predicted grades, I was forced to take a gap year. The year out was probably the best thing that happened to me in terms of gaining more hands on experience. I was taken on as a Health Care Assistant for the Bank at my town’s County Hospital and was delighted to find myself interacting with patients, nursing staff and doctors on a full time basis. I was very much a member of the healthcare team.

My role as a HCA was to take 4 hourly observations (blood pressure, temperature, oxygen saturation, pulse rate and respiration rate), maintain comfort and cleanliness for patients, handover patients and come to terms with the unexpected.

A common problem amongst many medical students has always been the feeling of anxiety before working on the wards and talking to ‘real life’ patients. There is often scare-mongering from older students who may themselves lack experience and confidence. I found working as an HCA prepared me for ward life as a medical student. It gave me a thicker skin, taught me to not always follow hierarchy and to speak out if something is wrong. It would not be uncommon for a nurse to say to me: “The best doctors have nearly always worked as HCAs.”

As a Bank HCA, I moved around many wards and learnt to adapt to new environments very quickly. Wards were sometimes understaffed and I would collapse at the end of a 12 hour shift questioning why I want to study medicine; other days, I sat and watched ‘Winnie the Pooh’ with children whose parents wanted a night off from the hospital. On several occasions, aged just nineteen, I was left in sole charge of the children’s outpatient’s clinic.

The work has also allowed me to attach my learning topics at university to patients I saw on the wards in those days and finally understand what the nurses and doctors were talking about.

With the NHS budget being sliced and the government claiming to put in place measures to modernise the NHS, my idea would be for pre-medical students to take internships working as HCAs. Most modern organisations have internships already available and it benefits themselves and the interns. Why can’t the NHS have the same? The students would receive the same amount of training and interviewing as any other HCA though the difference is that they are working for their medical experience. Medical schools really value any form of work experience and that is why HCA work is so appreciated.

In 2008, there were approximately 8000 places for medical school. ( Most universities have around 6-50 applicants per place, so we can assume that there are tens of thousands applying each year. The NHS could use this to their advantage and have a new workforce of Gap Year/Summer students doing their intern nursing shifts working in all the understaffed wards. This could also apply to all future health care students. The money saved will help with the budget – not to mention that some of the smartest 17-20 year olds in our country will be on the wards working to maintain an excellent standard of care.

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