Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Life as a medical student: Patient encounters

vicky hargest medical pre-medical studentMedical student, Vicky Hargest, looks at patient interviews, and explains how they can provide doctors with valuable skills.

During the non-clinical years at Sheffield medical school there are a number of opportunities to meet real patients with real symptoms and disorders. This is usually during lectures, but occasionally we are invited to meet with a patient in pairs.

Gaining confidence in communication

I recently made three separate trips to the Clinical Skills Centre to meet three patients with a variety of health problems. The first patient had breast cancer, the second type II diabetes and the third prune belly syndrome. The patients we meet are all volunteers that allow us to practice the all important skill of history taking.

Although this is in a somewhat controlled environment, we are not observed or assessed by the academic staff. This is our opportunity to gain confidence with important communication skills such as asking open questions, using appropriate language, listening and summarising, providing prompts and exploring the patient’s beliefs and concerns.

Meeting the patients

Even the most confident of people can find this task quite daunting as you never know what to expect. Before entering the cubicle to meet the patient we are given limited information, for example prior to meeting the prune belly patient we were only told that it was renal related. As we had just completed the renal module I felt fairly confident that I could ask questions relevant to chronic kidney disease, kidney stones or UTIs, however I had not expected to take a history about a rare congenital disorder. Luckily the patient was extremely helpful and provided lots of information and it soon became apparent that this affected many aspects of his health.

Different patients require different approaches

It has also become clear that patients are all different and therefore cannot be approached in the same way. Some are very open from the beginning, while others take a little longer. Some are forgetful so it takes plenty of patience to get an accurate picture of their past medical history. Others are so willing to share that my pen just can’t keep up! These encounters take approximately one hour each and we are required to write up the histories and a reflection for future reference on our online portfolio.

Overall I have found this experience extremely valuable and not simply because I have developed my skill in history taking. I now recognise the diversity of patients that a doctor has to deal with and that there are a lot of skills involved to do the job effectively and in the limited time often available.

About Vicky

Vicky Hargest is a medical student at the University of Sheffield. Although she has an arts degree (health studies) she has taken the pre-med route (six year course) in order to learn foundation sciences.

She is the first in her family to enter higher education - proving that medicine is for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Having worked in medical education for the last six years she is now seeing things from the other side of the fence.

Related links