5 uniquely British medical practices

I’ll be blunt and admit that I don’t really have a lot of exciting things to tell from the hospital after my placements. I think my placement in medical emergency is a tough one to beat. However recently, I’ve been remembering all these medical practices that was everyday for me in the UK, which now actually seems completely alien to me. I’m converting. There’s a lot that comes to mind, but for starters, here’s a list of five uniquely British medical practices.

1. Clinical wear is basically formal wear

For doctors, clinical wear entails shirt/trousers (NOT JEANS) for men and shirt/blouse/skirt/trousers (again NOT JEANS) for women. Nice flat dress shoes for both genders. Yes, this practice is extremely questionable hygiene-wise, as you come to work with the same clothes you will be wearing the whole day at the hospital, but there is some reasoning behind this.

The medical practice in the UK wanted to take a step away from the hierarchical system by abolishing the white coat and scrubs for doctors. There shouldn’t be anything to distinguish a doctor from a patient appearance-wise, as in the end they’re both people. This is so that there will be no “us and them” mentality between the doctors and the patients, and hopefully, doctors become more approachable during patient contact. It’s a nice thought I guess, and perhaps the prevalence of “white coat syndrome” has diminished over the years. However hygiene-wise once again, questionable.

homer gif giphy saying why so formal lenny you're my go to guy

2. Only black or white shoes are allowed to be worn in the hospital

The professional clinical look in British standards is to be somewhat uniform. Black or white shoes are to be worn as they are more professional. No bright colourful sneakers were allowed. However, I was always jealous of my sister and the bright colourful sneakers she wore around the hospitals in Sweden. So I never listened and decided to rebel and wear my bright orange sneakers. Did I get looks? Yes. Did I get scolded? Sometimes. But boy did I get compliments from patients – “I like your bright orange sneakers, you’re hard to miss in this hospital!” At least I was remembered for my fashion sense.

3. Some doctors wear bow ties or tucked-in ties

As an attempt to improve hospital hygiene, it was implemented that anything hanging around one’s neck is not allowed to be worn in the hospital. Including neck ties. This angered many doctors, as they viewed it to be a crucial part of their professional clinical wear. Therefore they came up with a compromise. Some switched to wearing bow ties, whereas others decided to keep wearing neck ties but started tucking the end of their neck ties inside their shirt. Works I guess.

bow tie from sing movie

4. British hospitals only use black pens

If you look around a British hospital, you will only find black pens and no other colour. I recall being scolded when in the hospital once for taking notes with a blue pen. They told me – how would colour blind people be able to read what I’m writing? I assured them that the notes were only for me to see, and afterwards I had to promise to never use my blue pen again. Since that day, I only brought black pens to the hospital. Yes, it is a rule in British hospitals that you are only allowed to use black pens so that everyone can read what you write, including those who are colour blind.

blue colour blind pen screaming gif giphy

5. You address surgeons as Mr/Mrs/Ms and DEFINITELY not Dr.

“Dr. McCloy… Oh sorry, I mean Mr. McCloy!”

I bet it’s probably only in the UK where some doctors would take offense if you call them Dr. Why you might wonder, which is a pretty good question. As told perfectly in this article, during the origins of surgery around the 18th century, surgeons back then did not possess any formal qualifications let alone a medical degree to be able to hold the title Dr. They were sometimes compared to butchers, and doctors were definitely more superior. However as times have changed, the status of surgeons have risen and thus have become so proud to distinguish themselves from doctors. Today in British hospitals, being called Mr or Mrs/Ms is a badge of honour and could only mean one thing – and that is that you’re a surgeon.
they call me mr tibbs gif giphy

The news of Brexit is finally hitting me

Yesterday, my newsfeed was filled with news of my friends’ graduations from St Andrews (it’s graduation week over there), midsummer photos from my friends in Sweden and lastly of course, the EU referendum results. What was supposed to be a happy day, was tainted with sadness with the news of the UK leaving the EU.
 
I must admit however, my initial reaction to the results was a somewhat relief, as it further affirmed my decision of leaving the UK. But with the news following the result like the resignation of David Cameron and the crash of the pound, I cannot help but worry about the unpredictable future of the UK. However now that the results are set, we can only hope that the political leaders will steer this result into a mutual positive outcome for both the UK and the EU.
 
Two years ago, I graduated from the most amazing university in the world: the University of St Andrews, Scotland. St Andrews was a university filled with tradition and world-class teaching, attracting students from all over the world. From my time there, I believed that the UK was a welcoming country of opportunity, which valued ambition and talent. Please, let the future international students like myself and other professionals feel as welcome as I did. Please, don’t change 💔
me on my graduation day with a BSc Medicine (Hons) from the School of medicine in St Andrews Scotland

Me on my graduation day with a BSc Medicine (Hons) from the School of Medicine in St Andrews, Scotland

 

 

UK, you will be missed in the EU

Around this time year, I made the bold decision to leave my future in the UK, after four years of medical school there. While most who didn’t know the real story behind it (that’s a story for another day) told me this was a bad decision, I somehow knew my future was elsewhere. A few months later, my newsfeed was flooded with news of my friends on strike for better conditions for Junior Doctors. Today, the UK has now voted to leave the EU. 

If I had stayed, I would’ve had worse conditions as a newly graduate doctor than if I had worked in Sweden. However after today’s events, I wouldn’t even be able to work as a doctor in Sweden with a British medical degree. 

Earlier this week, I overcame my fear of officially leaving Manchester University (I’m currently on leave) and began the process of withdrawing my enrolment. Sure, I had to undergo a traumatic year to make me finally leave the UK, but somehow I feel that that was the universe/God’s way of directing me to where I’m supposed to go. If I had stayed, what would have I done now? 

To all my friends (especially those from the EU) in the UK, I hope the decision of the UK leaving the EU doesn’t affect your future plans in any way. UK, I wish you all the best in standing on your own two feet. Thank you for giving me a free BSc Medicine (Hons) from St Andrews when I could.

Revision Week vs Tenta-P

I can’t believe it. I just finished my first medical school exams in Sweden. I’M FREE!!! 😀

So I just underwent my first “Tenta-P” (Tenta = exam, P = period) aka revision week followed by exams. I must say, it is very different from my past revision weeks in the UK (at least in St Andrews). Here are a few reasons why.

Revision week – UK; Tenta-P – Sweden

Also, see my previous blog post on Being a medical student in the UK vs Sweden.

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1. Tentagrupp/exam study groups

Revision week: Your exam grade depends on the normal distribution of how the rest of the class does on the same exam. Owing to this competitive nature, preparing for the exams tend to get competitive as well.  You’re on your own, good luck!

Tenta-P: This is probably the best thing about Tenta-P. It’s more social, and you’re not alone. Most join a tentagrupp or an exam study group (including myself) where you meet everyday to go over topics and past exam questions according to your revision week schedule. It’s basically a way to keep yourself (and each other!) motivated and on track, since you know you have to go through the topic before you meet the rest!

community study group group work gif

2. Previous exam questions

Revision week: As previous exam questions tend to get reused, the medical school don’t provide a database with previous exams. Knowing this however, students of previous years collectively made their own “previous exam database.” After one’s exam, one writes all the questions one could remember that came up, to share to the coming students the following year (thug life). This document is constantly growing and is being secretly passed down year after year like an heirloom.

Tenta-P: On our internal school website, we have a database of previous exams (from several years ago up to the one from last semester) available for us to study on, including answers. The questions also have a tendency to be reused, so there were many moments when I was beaming during the exam – that meant I had seen that question before.

simpsons happy paper writing gif

3. I’m still on Facebook

Revision week: Every revision week every semester, I usually deactivate my Facebook to minimise my procrastination and hopefully increase my concentration. My friends were used to this so as revision week approaches, they would normally ask me when I plan to take my Facebook down – and make sure they have my number so I’m reachable.

Tenta-P: I didn’t close down any of my social media accounts, instead I even added another one – Jodel. It proved to be quite a fun method of procrastination.

4. More space to study

Revision week: Back in St Andrews, we only had one central university library for all 9000 students. One could say that it definitely was not big enough to fit us all. Especially during revision week. Once, I walked around the library for over an hour trying to find a space with no luck – I just ended up going home. To be fair though, it was also a form of procrastination since you see everyone there during revision week, as everyone take their exams at the same time. Because of this, an early version of Jodel and Tinder combined begun called Spotted at St Andrews Library, where students could post about their library crush anonymously. Procrastination at its best.

Tenta-P: There are several study spaces across campus and I studied in my campus which is part of the university hospital area. To my surprise, I never had a hard time to find a spot to study, and I still seemed to see my fellow medic friends at the medical school. Where do they come from? Where do everyone else study? Wherever they may be, I’m definitely happy they left me a spot to study at the medical school anyway.

5. I’m actually sleeping

Revision week: At first, I would set some alarms at about 6/7am to make sure I wake up and study. After a while, my body gets used to waking up so early, that I don’t need an alarm clock anymore, regardless of the time I go to bed the day before. My body gets used to the 5h a day sleep routine. However, when it’s an extra harsh study day, I can’t afford 5h of sleep. That’s when the caffeine pills come in. Believe it or not, all-nighters with the right company are actually quite fun!

Tenta-P: I never had an alarm during the entire time and I think I got about 7h sleep each night. I never pulled an all-nighter nor took my typical caffeine pills to help me study. I feel so much healthier – and definitely more well-rested.

6. Packed lunches

Revision week: Bringing food to university isn’t really a thing in the UK – well at least in St Andrews as there are no microwaves in campus. So during study breaks from the library, you go to a fast food place and get take out, or to a nice restaurant to eat. Considering one could get a three-course meal from Jahangir (my favourite Indian place ever) for £5 (at the time about 50kr), it wasn’t really a big deal eating out everyday. Which definitely explains why most of us gain weight during revision week. For example, a friend of mine gained over 3kg from eating take out pizza everyday during revision week. But pizza is bae so it’s okay ❤

Tenta-P: To save time, you prepare your packed lunches for the entire week you will be spending in the library during tenta-P, and keep them in the fridge. Then you bring them one by one, and eat with your fellow medic classmates with their packed lunches at the medical school. You end up eating the same thing everyday but who cares, it’s revision week. And definitely more economical (#studentlife). Thank God for microwaves in campus.

7. One doesn’t study in the evening

Revision week: As previously mentioned, late night studying and all-nighters is a thing back in the UK. I used to do at least one all-nighter every revision week and mastered the 5min nap. Literally, I’d put my head down and my friend would time me, but I would automatically get up after 5min anyway and keep going. Also, it’s so much calmer in the evening hence so much easier to concentrate!

Tenta-P: In general, the medical school clears out around 5/6pm during tenta-P. I tend to study more effectively during the evening, so I usually stay on until nearly midnight. Which is apparently unheard of as most during this time are at home relaxing – or better yet sleeping – after the day’s study schedule. I often wished I was them.

sheldon cooper from big bang theory gif all nighter don't need sleep need answers

8. I’m actually doing other things apart from studying

Revision week: Life is wake up, study, eat while studying, sleep (if you can), study. Breaks every now and then if you deserve it. Repeat.

Tenta-P: So my friend Arianne from St Andrews came to visit over the weekend (yes, the few days before the exam), and I also celebrated a friend’s graduation back home in Stockholm. Arianne was a regular revision week study buddy of mine back in St Andrews, and I must say she was quite surprised by how “normal” I was. Not sleep deprived, not talking medical jargon to myself and lastly, not too stressed to not have a good time out!

9. The fear of failing

Revision week: In the UK, passing is not the difficult part and passing is not enough. You need to get a good grade as well because the better you get, the better it will be for you later. Also, your grade once again depends on the normal distribution of your class’ results. The fear was never about passing, so in a way I never had the anxiety of failing. Rather, the fear was getting a bad grade.

Tenta-P: The day before my exam, I had the biggest pre-exam anxiety ever. So bad I even had to go to church to calm myself down – God was the only one who could help me now. As we don’t receive grades but just a pass or fail on our exams, the fear was on passing as there’s nothing else to aim for unlike before. 65% total minimum was the goal, otherwise you gotta come back in August to do the resits!

spongebob rips in half gif

10. Meh, I’ll just do the resits

Revision week: If you fail an exam, you have one chance of redoing it during the summer. No matter how well you do on the resit, the maximum grade you can get is a pass. Also, it will state on your academic transcript upon graduation that you had to do a resit. If you fail the second time however, you need to repeat the year – touch luck! In other words the mentality is: failure is not an option.

Tenta-P: Once I overcame my pre-exam anxiety of failing, I accepted the fact that I know what I know and I can simply only do my best during the exam. I accepted my highly likely fate of returning for a resit in August. I listened to my friends’ advice who have this embedded within them – doing a resit is not the end of the world. At least the information will be fresh in your mind when the next semester starts! Meh if I fail, whatever there’s always next time 🙂

cat rolling psh whateva whatever i'm out gif

Time for summer vacation. Ehh, Linköping see you during resits in August? 😂

Being a medical student in the UK vs Sweden

Third medical school, third country. Third time’s a charm, right?

Two weeks has passed and I’m slowly transitioning from being a British medical student to a Swedish läkarkandidat. Slowly, I’m leaving the feeling of being a tourist only observing from the outside, to being a part of Linköping’s Läkarprogrammet T7. On good days when I overcome the language barrier of course. It’s okay, I didn’t expect the transition to be easy. But so far, I’m happy. And that’s what’s important.

Nevertheless as expected, I can’t help notice differences between my previous British medical education to my current Swedish one. So far, this is what I’ve noticed during my two weeks of Swedish medical school.

1. People don’t judge you if you admit you didn’t understand

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Sweden: Someone in my class raised their hand up during a lecture and said: “Sorry I didn’t quite understand that, could you explain it again?” and no judgemental murmurs were heard in the room. I was shocked. In a positive way of course.

UK: You don’t understand something? Tough luck, go over it on your own later. Or ask the lecturer on your own time, and not waste precious lecture time.

2. Student life is based on a lot of singing

Sweden: Aside from the alcohol of course, a lot of the traditions are based on singing. It is even a requirement for the main event organisers to sing. It doesn’t matter if you have a good singing voice or not, but you sing anyway. And everyone knows the lyrics. If not, there’s a songbook.

UK: Traditions differ, but it’s all based on doing silly things with alcohol, and not that much singing. Unless you call drunken screaming singing. Not as melodic.

3. Breaks are a necessity not a privilege

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Sweden: For every lecture we have that is over 2h, it is a MUST to have a break in the middle. Otherwise the lecturer gets a negative comment for forgetting on the evaluation form. Also, every time the lecturer asks whether we want him/her to continue the lecture without a break but a longer lunch break instead, that suggestion is always quickly shut down. Breaks are sacred. They’re for stretching your legs and getting coffee.

UK: “Oh look, we have a short break in between our lectures! I’ll just put my head down for a few min and then I’ll look over the next lecture.” Breaks were a privilege, and such a privilege must be used wisely. For the past few years in medical school in the UK, I haven’t had a lunch break. Lunch break for me has always meant quickly eating then studying. Or eating whilst studying. Now breaks in between lectures/classes/for lunch are for socialising. And additionally for my case, fighting my urge to take a quick nap or running off to the library.

4. Taking an interruption during one’s studies is normal

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Sweden: Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was new in our class because many returned from their leave of absence(s). Also, many in my class have told me that they too have taken a break from their studies in the past. Some are even planning on going on another semester’s leave. When you ask what they did during their leave, a common response is: “travel, work, have fun.”

UK: You can only take a break from medical school if you have a valid reason such as taking a Masters, illness or personal/family issues. Also, your application on taking a leave of absence has to be assessed and evaluated, with reasonable documented evidence. I recall seeing several doctors at the medical school about mine. The final being the medical school psychiatrist assessing whether I was “mentally stable” to make such a decision.

5. It’s okay to admit you didn’t prepare for the session

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Sweden: I had a meeting with the co-director of the medical program at Linköping, who explained to me about their medical program. When she came to the part about our group sessions (PBL sessions like in Manchester), she said: “If you didn’t prepare, just say so. You may have had an event in the weekend and didn’t have any time. It’s okay, we all have bad days!”

UK: In St Andrews, if you came unprepared to a session you get a “yellow card.” Three yellow cards means a meeting with the disciplinary head. So if you’re unprepared, fake it until you make it!

6. Exams are 6h long

Sweden: 100-something point exams are normally 6h long and most use up the entire time.

UK: We have 2.5h for our 130 point test? Perfect, that gives us just about over a minute for each point!

7. You failed? Just take the resits like the other 30%

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Sweden: To pass, you need 65% and above on the exam, and it is normal for 30% or even more to fail. It is actually expected. And if you fail, it’s okay, just take the resits. If you fail the resits, just take them again. And again. And again. Until you pass.

UK: Passing depends on how the rest of your class does. So if you’re in a pretty studious class (my class in St Andrews broke records for having the highest averages…), you better study. Because if you fail, you only have one chance to redo the exam, otherwise you have to repeat the year!

8. Internationalising is encouraged

Sweden: Within my two weeks of medical school in Sweden, I already applied for going on a semester’s exchange (with scholarship of course) and also got my application for doing a clinical rotation in the US signed and accepted. I got my application back with a note saying: “Happy trip and placement!”

UK: Doing clinical rotations abroad or even at a different hospital in the UK was basically impossible, unless special circumstances like in my case. I was doing medical French as a part of my European Studies, so I was allowed to do a clinical placement in Geneva. Otherwise, you have your final semester of medical school after finishing your final exams to do a clinical elective abroad, not earlier!

9. Group work is actually group work

wereallinthistogether_zpsfe029b7a

Sweden: Group work (in this case I mean PBL sessions) means discussions and encourages inquisitive thinking, and everyone contributes with something. You think together and share ideas, and together come up with a conclusion. Also, you don’t look at your notes because if you forgot a detail, someone else probably remembers it and fills that detail in.

UK: Group work (PBL sessions) was an opportunity to show off the random rare things you learnt from books with complicated names and from newly published research. Did you actually memorise that? No one knows, since you’re just reading from your notes anyway.

10. Medical school isn’t a competition, but team work

Sweden: As a final tip, one of our lecturers said: “Do not compare yourselves to your classmates, because you will all get there in the end”

UK: I used to describe entering the lecture theatre as entering a battle field. Your grades depend on your classmates, and your rank in your class will determine your future. Like what a classmate told me, “We’re all on the same race, and our goal is to come first.”

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Both systems are different with its own pros and cons. Looking back, my years in the UK were difficult, but until now, I still say that my first three years in the UK are the best three years of my life so far. The British system had its own hardships especially coming as a Swedish student. However, through my years there, I feel that I was hardened. I learnt self-discipline and how to work hard. Now, I’m hoping I can use my four years worth of experience in Sweden. I am grateful for the past four years and am looking forward to my final two years of medical school. Doctor Sam, finally, here I come!