My Year 1 Observership – the greatest medical experience of my life

Leaving the States for medical school wasn’t something I originally considered, especially not to the other side of the planet. It was a good friend from graduate school who told me about the UQ Ochsner program - he had nothing but good things to say, adding, “Seth, you’ll like it here.” After confirming The University of Queensland and Ochsner Health System had solid research opportunities in-line with my interests, I was set.

White Rock, Sping Mountain Conservation Estate

Being a Californian and a rock climber, it was no surprise Queensland and its lovely community felt familiar, enabling me to quickly feel at home. Once settled, first year flew-by in a blur of clinical science, differentials, and swift ferry rides to-and-from campus. At the end of first year, UQ Ochsner students are required to complete two consecutive month-long placements. I had no idea I was about to embark on the greatest medical experiences of my life.

The Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) Trauma Service would perform hand-over at 7am sharp, requiring me to rise at 5:30am, catch the route 66-bus, and reach the hospital by 6:50am. I’d usually arrive, coffee in hand, the nurses waiting for the director - once everyone was there we would review patients as a team. Being a consulting service, there was an ever-evolving list of patients to review for daily rounds. The morning routine was a step-wise process, starting with the most critical case: mechanism of injury, fractures, wounds, CT scans, etc. With a game plan in-place the team would split - I’d join rounds with either nurses or a doctor to assess patients. Meeting patients and practicing my clinical examinations was nice, but it wasn’t until the pagers went off that things got interesting.

When not alerting us to in-hospital codes, the pagers sounded for incoming traumas via the Emergency Department (ED). Making our way to the ED from rounds, it wasn’t known what would arrive: motor bike crash, jumper from bridge, or a plane crash, all situations encountered during my Observership.

In the ED, I assisted staff with reducing fractures, decontaminating deep wounds, and reviewing medical imaging. Some days were fairly mellow, while others disallowed a moments break. It was this environment I enjoyed most, learning an immense amount of medicine in a way far removed from the classroom. My perspective on medicine changed a lot, becoming more refined and practical as opposed to pedantic or theoretical.

One day, by another stroke of luck, I overheard conversation about a two-day trauma skills course. Although I had no idea what that entailed, I wrote to the program coordinator expressing interest. To my great surprise I was allowed to join for observation.

Besides the remarkable traumas and training received in the skills course, I’ll never forget scrubbing into the second and fourth surgeries of a patient suffering profound injury from a perforated bowel. The measures taken and techniques used in an attempt to close the wound and save the patient were incredible. Without a doubt the most formative and crystalizing experiences I have had while pursuing becoming a doctor.

At the time of writing this blog post, I am authoring a research paper with my Trauma Service advisor at RBWH. I made the decision to switch research projects more in-line with my career path, which is now surely surgical.

My advice?

Be assertive, deliberate, and polite… in return, you may find yourself profoundly grateful.

Last updated:
17 January 2020