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Team Aberystwyth

1st Month as a CARER Student in Aberystwyth… and Loving Every Moment!!

2 October 2021

1 month ago now, I was in Cardiff, only a few days away from starting my 3rd year of Medical school, unsure about what this year would hold for me! Was I going to enjoy the Aberystwyth CARER scheme? Would I regret choosing this route? Would I settle in well or would I miss Cardiff?

Even though this is still the start of my journey as a CARER student (and I’m still settling into new routines and styles of learning) I want to give you a better idea of what the start of the CARER programme feels like and take you on the journey this year with me 🙂 !

Week 1 – Welcome!

After a 2.5 hour drive from Cardiff, I arrived at our new house for the year! There is an abundance of student accommodation on offer in Aberystwyth, both as student halls and private rented accommodation, due to Aberystwyth University having a sizeable student population itself! For the same price as a small council house in Cardiff, we have a detached family home with a dining room, large living room, garden and driveway! Because Aberystwyth is also more compact than Cardiff, it means the supermarkets are between 2-15 minute walk away from the house (which is brilliant for the rainy days where you have run out of food!!).

On Day 1, we met Sue Fish (CARER lead in Aberystwyth), along with Adrian and Chantal (2 other people who support you throughout the year, both academically and socially, e.g. with travel expenses, joining societies and sports clubs, etc.). Immediately, it felt like we were our own small family / team, and that first day left me feeling like I was not tackling clinical medicine on my own!

As part of this lovely, warm welcome, Sue took us all to a local restaurant called The Glengower on the Seafront for dinner. I can still remember leaving that restaurant, staring at the beautiful, calm sunset over the sea, feeling at home and so excited for the year!

Across the course of this week, we were orientated around Bronglais Hospital (the main hospital in Aberystwyth), our GP practice, the university services and the libraries, meeting other members of staff who were going to be working with! This orientation helps you understand how the year is going to work, how it differs from the normal ‘Cardiff’ route, how we learn on placement and get some ideas of the fun social spots in the town. The best part of this week was definitely realising that we could easily fit in a visit to the beach and eating ice cream during our lunch break on teaching days!

At the weekend, we wanted to explore some of the many recommendations we had received about fun places to visit in Aberystwyth and the surrounding area! We decided to visit Devil’s Bridge (~20 minute drive out of the town or a 1 hour steam train journey), which had many beautiful waterfalls and views across the hills along the 1.5 hour hike. Aberystwyth has so much surrounding it to explore, you are NOT in the middle of nowhere!!

Weeks 2 & 3 – GP Placement 

By the 2nd week, we were ready to start our clinical placements, 2 weeks earlier than our colleagues in Cardiff! Each CARER student attends a different GP surgery for 2.5 days per week, ranging from being in the town centre, to a 45 minute drive away. They are all able to be accessed via public transport (buses or trains) or by car (not an essential, but good if you have one!).

During this first fortnight of placement, I helped out in phlebotomy clinics in the surgery (taking blood from patients), shadowed the GP, Physician associate & pharmacist consulting with patients over the phone & in person, went on home visits to patient’s houses in the local villages, attended specialist clinics in the surgery in Diabetes and Minor Surgery, and gained a much better understanding of the amount of people it takes to run a GP surgery (it isn’t just a few GPs and receptionists!) as well as gaining practice in filling in blood forms and urine samples.

Sue, my GP tutor, was very accommodating, helping me learn at my pace and answering any questions I had about the patient’s presentation, investigations chosen and their management. By the end of week 2, I was fully welcomed and integrated into the GP team, and I did not feel like “just a student on placement”, I was fully involved in the care of the patients we saw each day!

During week 3, I began seeing patients on my own! This sounds scary, but it is such an amazing opportunity to be so involved in patient care, and not just shadow healthcare professionals. We use a ‘parallel consulting’ structure in the GP practice: I introduce myself to the patient in the waiting area, take them to my consulting room (yes, we get our very own room!!), and take a history & perform an examination based on what they have come to the surgery to see us about. After this, I would present what I found about the patient back to Sue, offering up around 2-3 ideas of what I think could be causing this and if I have any ideas for the management of the patient. Sue helps me fill in the blanks on my knowledge and answers any of my questions surrounding the condition the patient has. We then go back to see the patient together, and explain what needs to happen next (e.g. taking some bloods, referrals, prescriptions, etc.), which I will perform independently or under Sue’s supervision. I then write up what I have found in the patient notes and quickly consolidate what I have just learnt into my brain.

Repeating this structure a few times a day allows us to get SO much hands-on experience on placement and helps you remember patients a lot better too, which is great for getting us ready for ISCEs, but more importantly, gets us ready for being F1 doctors!

During these 2 weeks, we also had some clinical skills teaching (venous cannulation & arterial blood gases) and lectures / tutorials at the end of each week. Because there are only 5 medical students in Aberystwyth, we get amazing teaching which is either 1:1 or in a much smaller group than the normal ‘Cardiff’-sized group work, so you can have your teaching more tailored to your needs, allowing you to get more attention from the tutor and ultimately get more out of the teaching sessions!

Week 4 – Hospital 

This week, I’ve spent 1 of my 4 weeks of the year in Bronglais hopsital (in the town centre, next to the university), experiencing both Surgery and A&E. I got to experience helping out with / watching 2 surgeries in theatre, listening to daily patient handover and surgical ward & hospital ward rounds and taking histories / examinations from patients in A&E. Once again, there were no other medical students in the hospital so I could make the most of my placement by shadowing whoever and wherever was busiest!

During the CARER scheme in Aberystwyth, you will be linked with an F1 in the hospital, who can help you with settling in and they can also help you go on extra shifts in the hospital if you want to (including night shifts if you want to try them)! This makes the hospital experience really fun, because you get to know the foundation doctors you are working with really well, making good friends with them and becoming an extension of their team!

After a long week, we decided to explore some of the amazing restaurants around Aberystwyth and go on some more hikes. There are so many unique places to eat at, it might take us all year to try them all at this rate!!

Even after just 1 month in Aberystwyth, I can already tell this is going to be a great year and I would thoroughly recommend applying to the CARER scheme! It is such an amazing opportunity to push yourself to get involved in patient care in a way that is unique to your year group in Cardiff, whilst living in a beautiful seaside town, that is a perfect home for the year!