In this series of articles, healthcare professionals from across the UK speak about their experiences with patients and colleagues. Julia is a healthcare assistant (HCA), Oxford graduate and aspiring medic
I studied Music at the University of Oxford, having always been encouraged in all my subjects but particularly in the arts. I loved the subject but it became clear during my degree that my ideal vocation was in fact medicine. I started getting shadowing placements and decided that the best thing for my application was to take a year out after music in order to work as a healthcare assistant. And for a while that was all it about – that it’d be useful for applications.
I didn’t anticipate quite how integral and important it would be to my medical school applications and thoughts about medicine
It was pretty much the main thing I spoke about during the interviews and working in that setting shows you far more than observing only (although that is useful, of course).
I applied for my job at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and was lucky to get the first job I applied to, in a respiratory intervention service. Many hospitals and care homes require you to have experience already – which I didn’t – so I was quite lucky to get my job.
Making sure I knew the trust’s values and being enthusiastic about what the job entailed were key
My personal job involves procedures and, predominately, outpatients. I am responsible for preparing the procedure room (a small theatre) for this, putting together bronchoscopes, making sure the patient is comfortable during the procedure, helping with non-sterile tasks for the sterile doctors, taking five-minutely observations, and also helping to recover and admit the patients. All in all, there is quite a lot of variety to the job in that respect.
Notably, my job does involve less personal care than other jobs. This is an interesting thing about healthcare assistant roles. People expect that it is mainly toileting and washing patients, but sometimes you can be in jobs where you are mainly doing more niche skills. But both are valuable and both involve interacting with and making the patient comfortable. This is something you do less of as a doctor, where you are more focused on treatment and diagnostics, so knowing how to do this and how everything works is useful too.
I’ve found that it’s useful to let your colleagues know you’re interested in medicine. Some people will be more interested in this than others.
I’m lucky that some of the doctors I work with asked throughout my applications how it was going, took time to explain things in more depth to me, and one even got me involved in some research (yay for my CV).
Equally, now is the time to pick up some practical skills – some HCAs are allowed to do courses or be trained up in skills like venipuncture and doing ECGs, and if you are, now is a good time – while you’ll have more time and support than you will when you learn in medical school.
As I mentioned previously, my experience became integral to my application and view of medicine.
I have experience in a medical team – I understand the structures, the jobs each member can carry out, and see the day to day processes and what will help in a career: what doctors do that makes jobs harder for nurses, how to be useful to colleagues in different roles, and how to have a difficult conversation
I have learnt what kind of doctor I want to be and how people interact effectively with patients. I have role models in mind even when I think about this.
At my medical school interviews I discussed what I did in my role, how I worked in a team, and reflecting on positive and negative things I saw. Being able to do this kind of reflection in something medical so early on is useful for a medical career and I credit my hands on experience for the fact that I could succinctly discuss healthcare settings and get offers.
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