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Getting Clinical! The Transition from Pre-Clinical to Clinical Years

By Malaika Haider

Starting my first year on placement during a global pandemic was truly nothing I could have predicted when I first stepped into the University of Manchester 3 years ago. As a bright-eyed bushy tailed first year, I was filled with excitement and apprehension at the thought of going to hospital every day and seeing real patients. Finally, after 2 years of pre-clinical learning, I was to begin my journey into clinical placement.

However, starting my first year on placement in the midst of an ongoing pandemic was not ideal. Excitement and apprehension slowly morphed into apprehension and dread.

However, a key skill that medical students need to possess is the ability to adapt to new circumstances and, adapt I did.

I present to you my experience of the transition between pre-clinical and clinical years!

Farewell Uni Life!

Seeing as how my 2nd year of university ended in a whirlwind of last-minute flights and frantic border closures, I didn’t even have a moment to comprehend all of my “last times”.

From my last time in a campus lecture theatre, to my last time frantically cramming anatomy before teaching; university life as I knew it was over. If you’re a University of Manchester student, I’m sure a small part of you misses being trapped in the Stopford barriers at 8:55am or even catching the ever-elusive bus 147.

Now, my entire university experience is centered around my base hospital. This includes my library, my academic and my pastoral support. My usual 10-minute walk to campus is now a 30-minute bus ride and I’ve traded my trusty University of Manchester hoodie for grey oversized scrubs.

As much as it was a physical adjustment, it’s also a peculiar mental adjustment. It’s a strange feeling being a university student but not really being in university at all; pandemic aside. This feeling is especially pronounced when you spend time with your non-medic university friends. It’s a strange disconnect that took me some time to come to grips with.

Stepping Up

The transition from pre-clinical to clinical years is physical, mental and academic.

In terms of academics, learning on placement is self-motivated. You’re in charge of creating the best learning opportunities for yourself and I found it very daunting having to approach busy healthcare professionals and ask to shadow them on the wards. By the end of the year, I’d squashed down my shyness and understood that I need to be the driving force behind my learning. From asking to accompany a patient to screening to sourcing doctors to sign off my placement forms, I learnt how to integrate myself into my new environment and establish myself as a part of the team. It’s all about making the most out of every teaching opportunity you can get.

It’s a startling shift from pre-clinical years when every aspect of my day would be timetabled

and I always knew what each session would bring.

Something else to note. I am just so tired, all the time.

Clinical years are physically taxing. I went from spending hours at a desk to spending hours constantly on the move. A top tip? Invest in a pair of comfortable shoes. During my first few visits to hospital, I would crash as soon as I got home. Any productive plans I had made for that evening were instantly wrecked and I was worried about how I would balance clinical experience and completing my other university work.

Slowly I began to build up a routine. I started to spend quiet period on the wards doing other academic work, I transitioned from using paper notes to electronic notes so I would always have them with me. I made sure to make time for meals, knowing that I’m not productive whilst I’m hungry.

It’s not been the easiest transition, especially when you’re 7000 kilometers from home and don’t know when you’ll next get to see it again. But now, even after a long day I can’t wait to get up and do it all over again.


Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has produced chaos in healthcare systems that has disrupted the education of medical students worldwide. However, it’s also an incredibly exciting time to be a medical student! Witnessing a global response to a pandemic in hospital is a (hopefully) once in a lifetime opportunity. This year has seen the rise of tele-medicine and having that integrated into our clinical teaching will be useful for years to come.

That’s not to say there haven’t been any frustrating moments. It’s difficult to accept having limited ward access due to social distancing and can be irritating not having a confirmed timetable until the day before a new rotation. It’s a learning curve for professionals and medical students alike. I won’t ever be able to compare my placement year to those before me. No one can deny that learning how to be a doctor during a pandemic is a truly unique learning experience.

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