For many of you, placement will come as a huge opportunity with a mixture of feelings. Through this blog I hope I can address some of the worries and concerns you might have before starting life on the road.
Even before starting at ARU I knew placement would be both a challenge and an eye-opening experience. Before setting out on placement I’d never met a terminally ill cancer patient, spoken to a young man who was intent on ending his own life, or attended a teenager who’d been stabbed… following just five weeks on placement in London I’d seen all of these.
In terms of how you prepare yourself for what you’ll experience on the road, I honestly don’t know what to say. All of you will deal with your experiences differently, in a way which is personal to you. I haven’t yet seen a dead body, or attended a cardiac arrest, and I truly don’t know how I’ll react once I do. I know I have my mentor and crew mate there with me who will support and guide me through these jobs. We often have student debriefs, where we can talk through difficult aspects of jobs and how they might affect each of us.
For now, though, don’t worry! All that will come with time. If there is anything we see on placement which makes us feel uncomfortable we can speak to our personal tutors, lectures or the counselling and wellbeing services run by the University.
One important piece of advice I would give is this: plan your route… then learn it! There is nothing worse than sleeping through your alarm, waking up 5am, ten minutes before having to leave for placement, grabbing a bite to eat, and not having time to programme the sat nav!
Once I knew which station I was at, I had a quick look through the LAS website and could find the address and postcode of the ambulance station where I was placed. I copied this into Google Maps (other mapping software is available!) and was able to work out how long my journey would take, and the differences in time I would need to give myself whether I was on an early (6am start) or a night (6pm start). Trust me, the M25 at rush hour is not fun! Plus, I aimed to get there half an hour before my on-shift time; this gave me a little flexibility with time and allowed me to get there a little early, and get my kit ready or chat to the other crews.
How to survive placement? Bring sweets and water. Lots. Seriously, a full day on the ambulances is very different than a full day doing, well anything else. Most of my shifts were 12 hours long, 6am-6pm, or 6pm-6am. If you were lucky you’d get a half-hour protected meal break, but many crews don’t get these (or avoid them, you’ll figure out why once you’re on placement!) so make sure you bring a packed lunch, plenty of snacks – ideally a combination of chocolate/sweets/fruit. Between each patient conveyed to hospital the crew has 14 minutes to ‘green up’ before they can receive a new job, this isn’t a huge amount of time and you don’t want to spend it trying to queue up at the food court.
Finally, enjoy yourself. Placement is a brand-new experience for you. It gives you the opportunity to meet real patients and treat them using the toolbox of skills you’ve been taught throughout the first two trimesters. Placement will teach all of you something different and new. That might be how to get up at 4am and travel into London, it might be how to assess a two-year-old child who just wants to play with your pen torch, or how to speak to a young girl whose mum is ill.
Regardless of what your placement experience is like it will have an impact on you, and trust me – you’ll have an impact on your patients. It’s surprising what a smile and a little knowledge can do.