Hardeep Lotay, Cambridge University medical student
Can you introduce yourself and tell us about what you’re doing currently?
My name is Hardeep Lotay, I’m a 5th year medical student at Cambridge University doing a variety of things, first and foremost trying to do my degree and be somewhat competent! Also, lots of various projects in a wide variety of areas. From the more scientific projects, to studies and publications. I do a blog and mentoring service as well, which is independent.
You’ve just finished your GP placement, how was that, was it what you expected?
It was brilliant! I had GP placements before on the course. One thing, regardless of how they set it up and who is in charge, GP always gives you that incredible variety of patients. Also, the density of patients. On a typical week on the wards its quite self-directive and it also depends who is around, and who is suitable for you to see as a student.
You may only get to see one or two patients a day, maximum. When you’re on GP you get to see at least 5. My GP was brilliant because they managed to arrange patients to come in – obviously within the bounds of COVID safety! But this meant that we were actually able to see patients face to face, which a lot of my colleagues didn’t get to.
It was brilliant in terms of the variety, the experience, and getting the practice of taking a history and doing an examination. And starting to think of the management in a very short time window. Also seeing the primary care aspect of COVID and how that’s impacted it.
What made you want to study medicine
Good question! My reasons were run of the mill. All students who will apply have an interest in human biology and want to go into a vocation. That’s why I decided on medicine. I didn’t have a medical family member or anyone, and I didn’t know anyone who had been to Oxbridge – so it was very much exploring the unknown! I knew from my work experience that it was something I had a vested interest in exploring.
Do you have plans yet for what you want to do long term?
That’s the million-dollar question! I think I’m in a good position, that there are a lot of things I’m interested in. A typical thing you go through early on as a medical student, is do you want to go medical or surgical? I’m leaning more towards medical. Between Primary Care and medicine, I haven’t fully decided yet. I still have quite big specialties like paediatrics, Obs & Gynae which I have had very little experience in, and I feel I can’t really make a decision yet.
I enjoy aspects of primary care, GP, A&E and currently on ICU which I also really enjoy. So, we’ll see what specifically that entails. It’s a really good time to speak to junior doctors and more senior doctors about what the job entails.
A lot have taken a step back and thought about their role and their speciality, because of COVID. So, a lot of them are really well versed on advice on their speciality. Most tend to promote their speciality! A few say maybe consider another one!
How has the last year effected you?
I’m a little different as I have been off the course until August, I intermitted. That meant I was in quite a unique position because I wasn’t officially on the course, but I could see the impact it was having. I had friends and housemates who where on the course, some of which were actually qualifying over the COVID period.
It had quite a profound impact, and probably will do for the next couple of years. Basically, it meant everything was disrupted. Everything from structed teaching, to bedside teaching, to being able to go on the wards; being able to practice your skills in a clinical setting. It impacted everything. Not only the medical part, the personnel dealing with this all had their own personal stresses. Everyone realised that we were going to have to make the most of it.
For me it was interesting, because I knew I was coming back to the course. It was a good opportunity to review things. In the end it helped to affirm my decision a little bit because I felt an inner need or responsibility to help out. Which told me that was the right thing to do. Right now, its impacting teaching, but significantly less than my previous cohort.
What advice would you have for anyone else beginning their GP placement?
First and foremost, make sure you’re polite and introduce yourself to everyone! I actually worked in a GP practice before University as work experience. The admin staff, the receptionist – they’re the ones you want on your side, 100%! Introduce yourself, make sure you know who to go to if you have issues like IT problems, or any issues on the periphery of medicine.
When it comes to the placement itself, its important to be involved. Even if you don’t feel that confident, the best way to learn is to go through the process. Once you get over that initial fear, being able to see patients on your own, as if you were their GP, it’s a sink or swim situation.
Take the time to talk to patients. Ask them about their wider experiences of healthcare. You can often get some really good advice as to what makes a good doctor. Ask them, have you had any particularly good, or bad experiences that you can advise me on? You can often get some really valuable peripheral knowledge there.
What advice would you have for people just starting their medical degree?
It’s an interesting time to be starting the course. The general university experience has changed. There has also recently been as shift in promoting better ways to study. We are definitely moving away from this idea that you ned to be in the library 15 hours a day.
Firstly, get organised. Take a look at all the amazing resources out there in terms of how to structure your studying. Make sure you get a good group of friends that you can study with as that helps with accountability. Make the most of the wider university experience as well.
Everyone says it, but when you first enter medical school you have all these wild ambitions of wanting to change the world. But as a first year, first and foremost you need to pass your exams and build that foundation of knowledge.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do things right there and then. Build good habits and listen to people who are in more senior years.
What do you hope for, for the future of healthcare in the UK?
I have a few interests that align with this. The first one is the whole idea of wanting to be a more proactive healthcare model. I think there are a lot of ways that can manifest. One thing is, I’m quite interested in social prescribing and the idea of empowering the patient to modify these risk factors and aspects of their disease. So, diet, exercise and the mental health aspects, I think that’s really important. Also, just general education. I think there’s a lot we can do. Not only in terms of things like diet and exercise; but also if we look at male suicide rates, they are disproportionately higher. We need to do more with young school children talking about things like conflict resolution and body image. These are traditionally less targeted at males, so we should be doing more.
We also have the technology aspect. COVID has brought this huge explosion of telemedicine and technology. I think that’s something that will stick around and maybe even blossom. At home kits and wearable tech that patients can use to monitor their own symptoms and align that with their doctor.
Having more electronic systems in general, which will have its own problems, it also has the capacity to free up admin time and make things a lot more streamlined. At its core it about empowering patients. That’s the thing I’m most interested in and excited to see what the impact is going to be; but we will see what happens!
There are a few colleagues in Cambridge that look down on GP and see it as a ‘soft speciality’. But I think that definitely comes from a place of ignorance. Once you actually appreciate being a generalist means you need a command of such an incredibly wide range of knowledge. Not just medical, but knowing things like remembering things about the patient, what the local services are, who is the local physiotherapist and social prescriber. All these people that patients might be seeing.
I think as a student or anyone removed from the general practice environment, I think its important to have an appreciation for how much the job actually entails. Someone once told me its not too difficult to be an adequate GP, but its extremely difficult to be a good GP.
Find out more
Read more from Hardeep and his experiences as a medical student and his mentoring support, here.
Help with your career
Are you thinking about a new role in Primary Care? Are you a medical student looking for advice on roles for when you qualify? You can browse our current vacancies here. We are happy to talk on the phone about how we can help you. If you would like a chat about your next career move, or you’re wondering what is available, contact us on 0113 350 1308 or email [email protected]
Do you work in Primary Care? Are you a medical student who has completed your GP placement? We would love to share your experiences and insights. Contact Harriet at [email protected]