Varun Anand is an Academic F2 Doctor at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.
A Taster Week in Geriatric Medicine.
Why: I believe taster weeks are an important part of the foundation programme. The current state of medical training in the UK means that as junior doctors, we would have only worked in four specialities before we have to decide on our future career path. Although only a maximum of five days long, a taster week can still provide a useful insight into a speciality and give you the opportunity to speak to trainees and consultants who are currently working in that field.
I remember enjoying my placement in Healthcare of Older People (HCOP) as a medical student but unfortunately didn’t have any rotations in the specialty scheduled during my two foundation years. HCOP is one branch of medicine that still requires a broad knowledge of general medicine. With the ageing population, patients are often admitted with multiple problems as opposed to a single presenting complaint. Therefore, it is important to be able to assess and manage these complex patients effectively.
How it was organised: As far as I was aware, there was no formal way of applying for a taster week. I simply emailed a HCOP consultant about six weeks in advance of my preferred start date. Fortunately, I received a positive reply and could then put forward the case to my rota coordinator, educational supervisor and foundation tutor, all of whom were happy to support my application.
One of the HCOP registrars organised a structured timetable for the week and was keen to ensure that it met my needs. He liaised with me early on and managed to put together a timetable that gave me a fantastic overview of geriatric medicine.
My experience: The week was varied and included a number of clinics, ward rounds and domiciliary visits. I came across patients with a wide range of medical problems, ranging from vascular parkinsonism to atypical migraine. I also got the opportunity to witness tilt table testing, which confirmed a diagnosis of vasodepressor neurocardiogenic syncope in one patient. On ward rounds, I learned the importance of the comprehensive geriatric assessment when dealing with older patients with complex medical needs.
Alongside the clinical experience, I also benefited from speaking to a number of consultants and professors in the speciality. They were all keen to discuss different aspects of HCOP with me and give me career advice. As I am on the academic foundation programme, I was also interested in finding out about what research the department does as I was looking for a potential project for my academic rotation in F2. As it happens, my taster week supervisor mentioned an interesting future project that I could get involved with.
So, has this week changed my perception of geriatric medicine? Maybe slightly, and for the better. It has confirmed what I thought about needing to have breadth and depth of general medical knowledge to effectively manage the health needs of an older population. There is also scope to have your own niche within the speciality, for example dementia, falls and syncope or movement disorders. As I expected, geriatricians are very friendly and patient people, which is probably a reflection on the type of personality that is suited to the holistic approach of Healthcare of Older People.
Overall, I am very pleased to have undertaken this taster week and would recommend other foundation doctors to do so too. In just one week, I have not only gained a broad representative picture of geriatric medicine and made a few useful contacts, but have also potentially secured a research project for my F2 academic rotation. Time well spent.