As a med student I spend a lot of my time practicing basic procedures on my colleagues. Given the fact we’re around each other on many of our rotations, we’re easy access. This month alone, I’ve practiced things like neural reflexes on classmates during neurology, as well the Weber test during my otorhinolaryngology (ear nose and throat) rotation.
Practicing on each other is commonplace. It’s also a lot more convenient, given our limited experience, to hone and develop our mastery of such techniques before we move on to patients. That way we can feel more confident making mistakes too!
Whether this is broad practice or not – I imagine it is – probably comes to down to how things are organised at individual schools. Certain medical curriculums might mean that that students get more patient exposure than others. It also depends on how busy, or what regulations their teaching hospital has in place, too.
The more patient time a med student has though, the less likely the need to practice on one another.
What Is It Like To Practice On Colleagues?
Depending on the personality of the colleague (med school has lots of funny stereotypes), practicing can be easy or difficult. Usually the more knowledgeable ones make excellent practice partners. This is because they’re better able to guide you over how things should be done.
Also probably why nobody’s so keen to work with me!
Other than that, it can sometimes be a little weird. As a lot of physical examination tests involve getting up close and personal to another human, personal hygiene can make all the difference too.
The first time palpating, auscultating or percussing someone’s thorax or abdomen is always a little odd. Even more so if they’re someone you see on a regular basis!
The bottom line is this; you really don’t want to mess up or be too eager to poke and prod. Not if you want other students to practice with you in the future at least.
Then there’s the subject of practicing on a student you might be attracted to. Thankfully, in my case, as the taken mature student in my class, this isn’t an issue.
But I can’t say it couldn’t lead to embarrassment among other students however!
What Procedures Can Medical Students Do?
Most med students would have to be supervised to do anything mildly invasive. That’s why, generally speaking, we’re usually restricted to basic procedures. That includes things like physical head-to-toe examinations using our hands or other instruments like stethoscopes, torches or blood pressure cuffs.
Depending on our level experience however, we might well be able to do more complex things. These can include:
- Blood taking
- Catheter insertion
- Cannula insertion
- Basic surgery; splinting, laceration repair, abscess incision and drainage etc
- Rectal examinations
- Prostate examinations
- Chest tubes
- Nasal packing
What we’re allowed to learn or practice varies by hospital rules, country laws or the environments in which we study. But there’s nothing stopping us from experimenting on each other. As long as we consent of course.
Anecdotally speaking, I’ve practiced things like blood taking on med school friends of mine. I also know others who’ve performed more intimate procedures on each other too!
How Can Medical Students Get More Practice?
Most med students get more practice with increasing exposure to real-life medicine. That’s why so many of us do volunteer or unpaid placements in hospitals or clinic between studies. There’s no substitute for supervised guidance by experienced doctors and nurses.
What’s also worth remembering is that there’s a big difference between practicing with other med students and actual patients. The latter, given the fact they’re presenting with real complaints, require much more focus and attention. The stakes being much higher.
Aside from authentic medical contact though, there are some other unique ways of getting decent practice. These can include:
- Using educational equipment and following tutorials (surgical pads and suture kits etc)
- Practicing on ourselves (running through easy-to-perform physical tests)
- Asking volunteers (family members, friends etc.)
Obviously there’s limited scope here as to the things we can practice. Both medical ethics and safety restrictions exist for a reason, but it’s important to use common sense here also.
Related: How do medical students practice surgery?
Practicing on other med students on the journey to becoming a doctor is a common occurrence. In an environment where practice makes perfect, it’s also a necessity.
While it’s no real replacement for a patient suffering a true pathology, using our colleagues makes a lot of sense. Not only do we get to repeat things without consequence in the hopes of getting them right, we also foster each others learning too.
Image Credit: cdc at Unspash