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A day in the life of a medical student in Australia

In 2016, 3700 medical students will graduate from Australian universities, about 500 of them international students. So what's it like studying medicine in another country?

Join us as we follow Melbourne University medical student Minh Quan Cao as he makes his way through a regular day.

Quan, from Vietnam, begins his day at 6 a.m. when he sets out for Sunshine Hospital, in Melbourne’s north-west.

He’s in his second year of a medical degree at the University of Melbourne and is currently on placement, where he is learning about healthcare in a real world setting, with real patients and real health problems.

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Medical rounds

“Learning about health issues from textbooks is already intellectually stimulating,” he says. “But when I study them at hospitals, I can see connections from textbooks to real life.

“For example, I studied about heart murmur [the abnormal sound heard during a heart beat]. But I had never heard any abnormal heart beats before. When the consultant (at the hospital) took us to see patients with heart problems and listen to their heart beats, it was the most enlightening moment. That was my first time hearing abnormal sounds of the heart with my own ears.”

Today he’s making his rounds in the respiratory ward. Quan says he’s received training on how to communicate with patients and take their medical records – but real life offers very different challenges.

“Patients are real people, not textbooks,” he says.

“You have to adapt to situations and act in the moment.”

“For example, some elderly patients are not able to hear clearly (or at least without their assistive listening device), while some other patients are not native English speakers, thus communication can sometimes be quite challenging. Many patients also do not have a clear memory about the history of their health issues.”

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However, Quan considers these challenges a key part of his medical training. Through them, he can strengthen his communication skills.

“Just talking to patients and listening to their life stories is quite interesting,” he says. And being a bilingual student brings advantages of its own.

As I am living and studying in a foreign country, I am able to appreciate different cultures and hold no judgment to any patient from any background.

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Time for lectures

Each week day Quan has to attend up to five lectures or tutorial sessions.

"Today I have a lecture on leukaemia, then a tutorial about electrolytes, and a session on ethical practices."

During his session on ethical practices, Quan has to give a presentation on the concept of informed consent.

“Informed consent refers to the rights of patients to know what treatment they’re getting. [As well as] the risks and benefits of the treatment or any procedure the doctors will do to them," Quan says. "As doctors, we can only proceed if the patient says yes.”

On such a busy day there’s no time for a break.

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“My least favourite part is when there is not enough time to have lunch,” he says.

Luckily Quan’s tutor allows him and his fellow students to bring their food to class.

“There is no word that can properly describe how much support I have received from people – whether it’s my peers, tutors or counsellors. They are all willing to listen to the any concerns that the students may have," he says.

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The end of the day

On his way home, Quan says his day is fulfilling when he feels that he has achieved something.

“It can be anything”, he says, “getting through and understanding most the content from the lecturers, correctly performing a medical procedure, getting to talk with various patients, having a constructive discussion with senior staff in hospitals.

“Today, aside from talking to patients, the tutorial on electrolytes made a lot more sense to me today and cleared up many misunderstandings I had back in first year.”

Reflecting on his two years as a medical student, Quan says he is very impressed with the patient-centred approach of Australia’s health care system.

The most impressive aspect of the Australia’s health care system is their outstanding focus on patients, with the emphasis on respect for patients and appropriate management for their needs.

[Jenny Nguyen]

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