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What's it like going to North Wales (Bangor) for placement?

Welcome to the first of our series, "What's it like...?", written by current medics & alumni, sharing insight on topics such as placement, intercalation and going abroad! In this blog Q&A, Emmanuel Onyango (Year 4) shares his experience of being in North Wales (Bangor)!

How did you feel when you first found out that you were going to Bangor?

At first, I was apprehensive. On one hand, I thought it would be nice to have a change of scenery and to experience placement outside of South Wales. On the other hand, I was nervous about being away from my friends, bored out of my mind and a bit about how I would be received by patients. I think, as a black medical student, I tend to have this internal fear that when working in places outside of South Wales, I will be more likely to encounter overt racism.

Saying that, I did not want to make a habit of letting fear hold me back from taking opportunities to further myself. For me going to Bangor, where there are less students on clinical placement, offered the chance to do that!

Did you feel that you had a full experience of your placement block when you were there?

I went to Bangor to do the Hospital Front Door block which is a placement where you get to experience acute medicine. For the last four weeks of the block, I was in the emergency department. During that time, I was given so many opportunities to clerk patients, present them to the doctors and practise many skills. l recommend having at least three skills in your head that you might want to attempt on a given day, because often doctors will look for you when there is a chance to do the ones you are interested in!

We also had weekly simulation sessions where, as a group of four, we took on acute simulated scenarios. I was surprised at how realistic the simulation felt and I think it is a great way to learn about management in the acute setting and communication skills.

I think that, in general, the doctors really got to know the medical students and we were able to build up a level of trust over time which enabled us to be given even more opportunities. In my opinion, this was a huge benefit of having fewer students and spending a longer time in a department. By the end, I felt a lot more competent and confident.

What did you do in your free time outside of medicine?

I found that because there was practically no time spent commuting, I had a lot more free time than usual! Whilst I would advise being balanced in how you spend it, you definitely had a lot of time to study or do coursework if you needed to. Everyone on placement in North Wales does the progress test in Bangor too (which the undergraduate offices organise transport to the exam venue in Bangor University for you!).

Here are a few places you might want to visit on the weekends or other times you are free:

* Llandudno: A seaside town that had a lot to offer in terms of restaurants and scenery. Also, go for a walk around The Great Orme because some of the views we saw from it were breath-taking!

* Anglesey: This is an island across Menai bridge which is not far from the hospital. Once you are there, I would suggest walking a scenic route along Newborough beach to Llandwyn Island.

* Pontio Cinema: Pontio is a performing arts centre attached to the Bangor Students' Union building in town, it has a cinema with student friendly prices.

Within Bangor itself, there are quite a few pubs and restaurants which tend to offer student deals you can look out for. Outside of the town, you can travel to Liverpool which is only a couple of hours away by train!

I came back to Cardiff once during the time I was in Bangor but I remember a lot of people went back more often. I got a lift from a friend who was also going back and it took around 4 hours, not including breaks. When I returned, I took a direct train which took 4.5 hours.

What was it like in your accommodation?

The outside of the accommodation will have you feeling like you have rocked up to a prison, but the way it looks is deceiving because the inside is not too bad! The accommodation is split up into flats with six bedrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen each. Plus, on each floor there is a lounge room with a TV. In terms of location, the accommodation was a two minute walk from the hospital on the site and it was about a five minute walk to a small convenience store where you could get a few essentials.

The experience of living with new people was an interesting one. I like conversation, and so I genuinely enjoyed speaking to people who I don’t usually talk to and getting to know people outside of my circle. But in a lot of ways, it was a big adjustment. I would say that I learnt to address anything that I took issue with, even with people who I did not know very well and looking back, I am grateful for that lesson.

What is your overall opinion of the experience?

It was a really good quality placement in terms of the learning experience. You were given every chance to improve clinically and most of the staff were friendly and willing to teach. My time outside of placement was a mixed experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to be discovering a different part of Wales and all of that wholesome stuff, but I felt like it was difficult to live in Bangor if you didn’t own a car. Being reliant on others meant that you had to operate on their schedule, which was not always easy for some things. As a result, most of the time I ended up walking or taking the bus to the supermarket for example and I ended up not joining the gym, purely because it was too far from the hospital for me.

However, in the grand scheme of things, not having a car was a minor inconvenience when I think about all that I gained from the placement!


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