Author Archives: Paul Brennan

Grasp every opportunity but don’t spread yourself too thinly….

from Wikipedia (

(from Wikipedia)

A key message about thriving & surviving: grasp every opportunity presented to you during medical school. Really throw yourself into it both academically and outside of work. It’s good to get involved in, to meet people and gain experience. It will boost your confidence and skills, without a shadow of a doubt.

It’s important to do things that you enjoy outside of medicine too, there is always time – it’s not healthy nor productive to work all the time.

Medicine is a challenging career and requires a lot of hard work, but it helps to compartmentalise topics, plan ahead and prioritise your time carefully.

Key mottos:

  • “medicine is a marathon, not a sprint”,
  • “failing to plan is planning to fail”
  • “don’t spread yourself too thinly”.

Don’t be too hard on yourself, medicine is very demanding – focus on yourself. Don’t try too hard to meet others expectations – everyone works differently and you will find your own niche.

Continue reading

Erasmus – an incredible experience abroad!

Fifth year studentFlag_of_Spain.svgs ran a fascinating workshop for 2nd year students, who were interested in an Erasmus placement. The 5th year students, who’d spend 3 months each in Paris, Nantes and Madrid, enthusiastically shared their stories and anecdotes.

The main message of the workshop was that an Erasmus placement is a fantastic opportunity and a great deal of fun! The passion and enthusiasm from the students came across strongly when they talking about their experiences, which hopefully inspired the younger students to apply for Erasmus.

They discussed the differences in doing a placement abroad, and said you often get poorer clinical experiences compared to Wales. They felt you spent more time observing than doing, although stressed this is not a reason to rule out Erasmus. You may need to work a bit harder when you return to Wales, but they all passed their exams and feel it was worth it!

Another difficulty they all shared was poor organisation and lack of information about their placements. They believed this could be overcome by getting some advice from previous Erasmus students, and happily shared their contact details for anyone wanting further advice.

Some 2nd year students asked advice on how to cope with the different languages. One of the 5th year students had only done a language up to GCSE, whilst another had previously work in the country so it was interesting hearing the different experiences. They shared tips about how to improve your language skills before going and reassured the younger students they’ll quickly pick up the language whilst out there.

Although some of the draw backs of Erasmus were discussed, the clear message of the session was Erasmus is an incredible experience and highly recommended.

Rhian Thomas, 5th Year Medical Student

“Keep calm and relax” – reporting on a T&S session….

This sharing session was quite cool. I still can remember wondering how am I going to survive the whole 5 years course? Worry, nervous, stress, all came at once to me at that time.

Some of the experience and tips shared by the fifth years:

  • Be yourself, try not to compare yourself to others
  • Know your own style of learning
  • Keep really good friends with you, when you stress out, you can chill with them
  • Ideally, have some non-medics friends
  • Don’t aim to far…one by one, aim for simple things that you can achieve
  • Be smart during placement. Know what you want to learn that day.

The participation from 2nd year students was impressive, and the session was really interactive. If there some more sharing session like this from the junior doctors I’ll definitely sign up for it.

Coverage provided by Tuan Tuan Zainal

“My elective and what it did for me” by Dr Z Dana Huq

Dr Dana Huq courtesy of Yue Guan

Dr Dana Huq courtesy of Yue Guan

Dr Z Dana Huq is an FY1 at the University Hospital of Wales and a Cardiff University graduate. He kindly agreed to share the experience of his elective as a final year medical student. In order to make the most of this unique opportunity, he advised choosing an elective based on something you enjoy. Dr Huq had an interest in scuba diving and travel, so originally chose to do a 5-week elective in hyperbaric medicine in The Hyperbaric Medical Centre in Sharm el Sheikh. However, due to the unsettled political status of the country at the time, Dr Huq had to cancel and reorganise his elective, which he chose to do in Fremantle Hospital, Australia.

In planning this elective, there were a number of expenses to consider, including vaccinations, visas, administration fees and a medical, on top of accommodation and flights. Therefore, it’s extremely important to take cost into consideration. Moreover, as Dr Huq discovered, your planned elective may be cancelled or changed at the last minute and so being flexible is essential.

Although costly, there are many benefits of going on an elective overseas. Dr Huq had the opportunity to experience a new healthcare service, perform procedures that would not have been possible in the UK and travel. After all, an elective is more than just medicine; it is an opportunity to travel the world and meet new people – so above all else, enjoy yourself!

By Sophie Rees and Katie Field

Enthusiastic about Erasmus


Flag_of_France.svgSo you may have heard stories of people heading off to random places across the globe to ‘study,’ and thought ‘that sounds cool!’ You have the opportunity to be that person!

Erasmus opened my eyes to new experiences, new healthcare systems, new challenges, and most of all a new culture and a new language.

Cardiff University provides excellent opportunities to study in various locations across Europe through their Erasmus programmes. I grasped this once in a lifetime opportunity to enjoy living in Paris for 3 months. I undertook five weeks placement in obs and gynae, and five weeks in the paediatric department in a hospital in central Paris.

What were my worries about Erasmus?

  • Language; spending 10 weeks in a French hospital, being taught in French and conducting consultations in French may come across as quite daunting…and it was! Having barely spoken any French for almost 4 years and suddenly being totally immersed in the language and culture was a very intimidating experience. However, I would urge anyone considering undertaking an Erasmus to not allow the language barrier to stop them. It was terrifying at first, but after the first few days I soon became comfortable in the environment and my language skills rapidly started to evolve. The best way to learn and improve upon a language is to throw yourself in at the deep end.
  • Learning how to adapt to a new healthcare system; I was worried about how much clinical experience and teaching I would get in France. Yes, the system was different, but essentially patients still have similar problems. The hospitals are also very keen at giving you hands on experience, which resulted in me delivering a French baby all by myself, as well as conducting some consultations by myself before relaying to a senior doctor. Anything any of us felt we missed out on in teaching on placement was made up for when we returned to Cardiff, and we probably overcompensated, meaning we ended up with more clinical experience than the medical students who stayed in Wales. This may seem intimidating, but we got to experience the beauty and romance of Paris whilst studying. Lunch-breaks by the Seine with a baguette and cheese really can’t be beaten!

What did I gain from my Erasmus experience?

  • I vastly improved my spoken and written language skills beyond anything I’d ever achieved when learning in school.
  • I got a chance to travel and immerse myself in French culture, and learn more about myself and what I want from life.
  • I experienced a different healthcare system and broadened my horizons regarding our NHS, its positives and also things that we can learn from healthcare in other countries.
  • I improved my confidence in many ways, including conducting consultations and communication with patients, and directing myself around new cities in a different language.
  • I made many new friends, and had the time of my life with them!

If you’re worried about whether your French isn’t good enough, or whether you might miss out educationally then put these fears to one side, because I was worried about these things too, but you will be fine! This is an amazing opportunity…don’t miss out! You’ll regret not going for this someday…

Matthew Haslett

A Hitchhikers Guide to Electives

This afternoon in UHW there was an exciting and informative Q&A session for second year students led by three 5th years who are just days away from going on their electives..

Where are you going? When do you have to organise it?

As a general rule:

  • developed world/applying as a large group/specific specialty in mind = competition for placements
  • developing world/applying as a pair or alone/no strict preference for speciality= more placements available.

With competition for places, knowing where you want to go is beneficial and so is casting a wide net. Email as many institutions as you can and be prepared to chase people for responses, you may have to resort to phoning them to get a response. Ask those who have recently returned, your foundation doctors on the wards and your peers for contacts, ideas and inspiration.

 The £££ side

An elective can be an expensive 2 months! Even with a free placement always check what your living costs will be – rent, food (are there cooking facilities), laundry. Then there are the logistics – you are not a tourist – work visas are more costly if they are needed and of course there are flights to consider. From sunblock to thermals if you are going overseas you will need to buy supplies.

Home or Away?

Remember there is always the option to stay in the UK and follow an interest – work with the Air Ambulance, work at a specialist centre (like GOSH), get involved in research. Better your CV, follow an interest or have a bit of a ‘work-holiday’ – they are all valid reasons to do what you want to do on elective.

For more information all 5th year students recommend The Electives Network (TEN), a not-for-profit website of global contacts associated with MDU.

You won’t be getting this chunk of time as a doctor, so don’t waste it!

Happy travels!

Elizabeth McAleer – final year student

Lecturers leave lasting impressions

Firstly I am biased, I like Tom Hughes as a lecturer – I remember his lecture when we were in second year. He taught us about swallow, he would walk around the lecture theatre encouraging everyone to hold their arms out in front of them and look down at the epiglottis (at the time it was imagined to be somewhere on our lap). It was a story, it was exciting and engaging, it was a powerpoint of very few slides which would be completely useless if you failed to attend. It appealed to my short attention span, I could learn from this so I remember it to this day.

Initially it was stated that these talks were here to inspire us. I have never been struck by a lightning bolt of inspiration whilst sitting in a crowd of 300 people. Inspiration often catches you by surprise in the middle of a ward round when you see excellent healthcare delivered. The way other doctors engage the patient, the way the story is listened to and a diagnosis is teased out. The way the nurse can motivate the unwell back on the road to health again by willing them to do things for themselves. And equally we can be inspired by witnessing poor attitude and poor conduct – see the images and actions you never want to replicate.

It was an engaging and entertaining introduction to the afternoon summarized perfectly by describing medicine as a meeting of art and science. I enjoyed it, maybe because as a fifth year I can appreciate it more, I have taken more histories from patients than my second year family. Perhaps this will be the Tom Hughes talk they remember – about taxi drivers and hairdressers being the laymen who listen to our daily confessions.

Catriona Spiers – final year medic

First impressions from an organiser

Two very interesting talks from Professor Phil Smith and Dr Tom Hughes started us off today. One said that he studied too hard while the other told us that he has failed is first set of major exams. Prof Smith talked about medicine being where art meets science and Dr Hughes emphasised the importance of a good story.

Good questions about authority gradients and work-life balance.

Having checked the first set of workshops, I noticed one very small room which was cramped full of students – sorry about that. Lesson one is avoid TDS 3F6 – it only has a capacity of 10 🙁

Then, I panicked and moved a Year 5 speaker which was completely unnecessary. My apologies for that too. I should trust more!

Generally, it looks good….