Just Another Year at Medical School or a Life Changing Experience?17 May 2020
Being on the RER Programme eases you into working in the clinical environment from having years of lectures and tutorials. It also allows you to appreciate primary care and GPs, and medicine in the rural setting. I chose to have a year away in the wonderful seaside town of Aberystwyth and I couldn’t have thought of a better way to spend my first year of clinical placement.
Initially I thought RER was the same as staying in Cardiff, you have three blocks of clinical placements and one block for your SSC – I thought why would I want to constantly be changing where I’m having placement with the extra stress of being out of the comfort of Cardiff and away from everyone!? I decided to attend the lecture about it anyway since my housemate was going (only because I didn’t want to walk home alone) but I can’t stress enough how glad I am I did go.
There’s no hassle of moving to a new hospital just after you’ve settled in the one you’re at, you’re not one in a group of 10 following a consultant round, in fact you’re probably the opposite; each one of us has our “own” GP that we work at 2 and a half days a week throughout the year, and you’re valued as if you’re staff (in effect you are). I chose Borth Surgery and, as anyone would, I would say it’s the best one to go for – Borth has 2 GPs and cares for about 2700 patients, so you are definitely of value and become part of the team quick! This also allowed me to really get to know a lot of the patients who I followed over the year due to various diagnoses and conditions. This allowed me to learn and understand about them from the patient perspective and how they really are managed, rather than your textbook answer.
Within about a month or so you will have your own patient clinics where you will be consulting patients, performing your own investigations, and even writing referral letters to secondary care (under the supervision of your GP tutor, don’t worry you’re not expected to be a fully fledged GP). It sounds absolutely terrifying, and I was absolutely terrified(!), but it has allowed me to build my confidence up so much with taking histories, performing examinations and investigations, and presenting histories and examination findings – very useful for the Year 4 ISCEs. Patient’s love it as well! There aren’t many medical students in Aberystwyth, certainly in GPs, so they’re more than happy to see you and help you develop your learning. You do take on a lot of responsibility, but you have a fantastic support system.
But what about experience in A&E, surgery, or generally on hospital? Obviously primary care is very different, but you have 2 weeks dedicated to experience in A&E and 2 weeks in surgery in November and March. Plus because there’s so few medical students in Aberystwyth, if you want more experience in the hospital you can just ask and turn up!
The rest of the week is spent on lectures (on Thursdays) and SSC (on Fridays) which I personally find much more appealing than 8 weeks of 5 days a week spent in hospital then 2 weeks of lectures then repeat. Having a structure over the whole year allowed me to get into a proper routine and really plan out my work.
I’m sure you’re here to read about more than the placement and learning side though, so let me say Aberystwyth is an incredible place to live! I know everyone says that about everywhere but let me really try to convince you. It’s so refreshing being in a town with so many independent stores, regular farmers markets, and a passion for arts and creativity.
The arts centre in Aberystwyth has a Dance School and I love to do ballet, so I was so glad I could continue it and easily fit the lessons into the working week (the consistency meant I didn’t have to worry about clashes with placement changes). There is also a gym, swimming pool, park run, and you can join any Aberystwyth University society, so I took up Taekwondo as well! I have to say, for a small place I was never bored. If you have a car you can drive to all sorts of amazing places, we found a gin distillery, visited a Welsh Nature Reserve, walked in the Devil’s Bridge Falls – if you’re not a walker, you’re bound to become one. Aberystwyth knows how to party as well, there’s loads of crazy bars and pubs, and a club on the pier itself! You don’t lose your social life or miss out, if anything I’d say I’ve busier than ever going out and seeing people! I joined a society who have chill weekly socials so I could have a break from studying and meet other students, and as a result I’ve made friends with some people I hope stay friends for life.
When I first heard about spending a year so far away from my friends in Cardiff and even further away from my family, I thought there is no chance I’d choose something so insane, and now approaching the end of the year I can say I have had one of the best years of my life and I want to come back here for my FY1 as a junior doctor. Choose the unknown, choose the risk! You will come out of it with some invaluable experience that will shape you as a future doctor, and a year of your life you can look back on knowing you didn’t miss out on such a brilliant opportunity.