Saturday, November 18, 2006

FAQ #18: How Much Clinical Experience Do You Get at CCLCM?

If you've been following my blog for the past five months, then you know that we are already getting quite a bit of clinical experience. We begin to see patients on our own starting in October of our first year. At the beginning, we didn't do very much because we hadn't learned too many skills yet, but over time, we've been gradually doing more. I think that the clinical exposure we get here is one of the greatest strengths of the CCLCM program. When I talk to my friends at other schools, I've spent way more time working one-on-one with actual patients than any of them have, no contest.

The way it works is that each week we have one afternoon of either clinical skills class or actual clinic. One week we learn a set of skills in our clinical skills class, and then the following week we practice those skills with actual patients in the clinic. When I say skills, I mean both clinical and interviewing skills. Our class lasts four hours, and we spend half of that time practicing clinical skills on standardized patients, and the other half interviewing standardized patients. A lot of medical schools use standardized patients to teach their medical students, so that is not something that is unique to CCLCM. Basically, these people are paid actors who allow us to examine them and interview them for practice. So far we've learned how to do things like take pulse and blood pressure, listen to heart and lung sounds, and take a patient history to find out why the patient came to the clinic that day. After Thanksgiving break, we'll be learning how to use the otoscope to examine the ears, nose, and mouth.

During the weeks that we have clinic, we usually see four patients. Again, these are real patients. We are supposed to see two of them on our own and two with our preceptor, but my preceptor is so busy that I usually wind up seeing three or even all four of my patients on my own. I get the patients from the waiting room, weigh them, take their blood pressure, ask them why they came to the clinic that day, find out about their medical history, listen to their hearts and lungs, and so on. Then I report what I found out to my preceptor, and we return to the room to see the patient together. Sometimes I perform that week's clinical skills in front of my preceptor, and sometimes I do them on my own and we just discuss my findings. Each week, the exam gets a little more complex, as does the interview. It is very challenging to work with patients, and you never know what you will find out when you shut the examining room door behind you. But it's also very exciting and interesting, especially when I see patients who have symptoms and illnesses that we've been learning about in class. I would say that the afternoons I've spent in the clinic have been one of the major highlights of my experience in medical school.

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