Feedback from past students
Jorgos, Student 2015
Stepping out of the airport, I was greeted with the chilliness of the expected British showers. However, I did not know what to expect from this one week journey in the field of psychiatry. I had done seminars at Stanford University introducing aspects of the medical field which were interesting yet yielded no tangible representation of what the field is like. By comparison, this very well organized schedule introduced hands on experience with many different aspect of psychiatry including the adult ward, the John Radcliffe psychiatry unit, group talking therapy, the elderly ward, and lectures. Each place provided a completely unique and different look at aspects of this field and showed how diverse the actual job opportunities were. The first day was a sobering experience of how difficult the psychiatrists have to work. With an American sense of two people laying down on a couch and talking, I stepped towards the Allen Ward not knowing what to expect. This was located in a stunningly beautiful building that had no signs of being a ward besides the locked doors and fences. Beginning a fast paced day, the doctor went patient by patient reviewing their mental status from over the weekend. The doctor would give me an introduction to the patient’s condition before they arrived and then after would ask me what I surmised from the conversation. The questioning that the doctor utilized was done with both care and the intent to help as many of the patients revealed their sometimes heartbreaking and sometimes scary story which casted away any remainder of my jetlag. My initial analysis at the end of the interview tended to be superficial yet the more I learned as the doctor would help, the more intrigued I became about the subject. The nurses had to remind the doctor I was with to stop for lunch as her day was normally too busy to find time for food. This was a common trend amongst the doctors and displayed to me the strong work ethic that was needed to work their job. From this adult ward, I went to group therapy which was an exciting and extremely interesting experience where I was able to interact more directly with the patients. The patients were also excited to be able to talk to us in this youth experience as they wanted to tell the future psychiatrists what they thought worked and did not work. The rest of the week followed by showing me how everyday psychiatric work experience would be like in the different aspects of the field. Each experience only enthused my interest for the psychiatric field as I could see how consequential this job was to a delicate society. Unlike many jobs, most things that I learned about the everyday workday increased my enthusiasm for the field. Though sad to have to return home to America after an exhausting week, I brought back a newfound interest in a field that was somewhat obscure to me before. The ten hour flight was somewhat lightened by the book Pocket Psychiatry which is the only textbook-like book that I am happy to read. Stepping out of the airport into the warm California sun, I realized that this journey could surmount to change my life as I am now interested in a field that most likely would not have been a career choice beforehand. I am greatly appreciative of this opportunity as there are not many programs such as this one.
Emily, Student 2015
Upon first hearing about the opportunity to take part in a psychiatric work experience placement, I was unsure as to what it might entail. Since I first developed an interest in studying medicine, the ever-increasing importance yet ever-declining availability of work experience placements has become gravely evident to me. Therefore, when the opportunity arose to not only place myself in a medical environment, but in one that surrounds an area of medicine that I have always hoped to learn more about, there was no questioning my excitement towards the psychiatric programme.
My placement mainly consisted of rotating around different wards within Aylesbury’s Whiteleaf Centre and Oxford’s Fulbrook Centre; meeting working age men, women and elderly patients with vastly varying mental health conditions; including schizophrenia and OCD. I found it extremely useful to sit in on hand-overs and ward rounds because it allowed me to learn about the level of detail to which each patient is monitored, both when in the presence of the doctors and out.
Having entered the placement with a very limited knowledge upon psychiatry, I have since learnt a great deal about what the medical field entails. I was particularly surprised at the difference in the relationships between the doctors and patients of a mental-health ward compared with other medical settings. I now realise the difficulties that come with diagnosing someone who is mentally unwell. Every encounter is carefully logged and discussed with others, often struggling against conflicting possibilities of diagnosis. It is an area of medicine where so much can change so quickly.
I believe that this placement has given me the necessary experience in a clinical environment that has allowed me to discover what a medical career could lead to. In terms of the future and possible medical school interviews, I feel that this scheme has given me the chance to prove that I am heavily interested in studying medicine; now even considering going into psychiatry. Feeling very lucky and grateful to have been a part of the programme, it has already benefitted me greatly.
Tak, Student 2015
Not too long ago, I had the opportunity to through a one week psychiatry work experience, where I followed different psychiatrists in different departments. As the week approached, I was feeling quite nervous, not really knowing what to expect. Having a few relatives and friends who suffered from psychological disorders such as depression, I was not totally foreign with mental health. However, I always thought that people who were in hospital were going to be very different and in a sense, scary.
The first day was at the food disorder specialty, where I met many anorexic patients, both in and out patients. Throughout my day, I had the chance to attend ward rounds as well as mental health assessments for new patients. With the psychiatrist’s thorough explanations along the way, I learnt a lot more about anorexia and what they do as a medical team. I was initially very surprised by the way psychiatry departments do their ward rounds, as it modelled a form of meeting, where the patient sat in the middle of all the medical workers, such as psychologists, dieticians, therapists and nurses. Mentoring their diet was crucial, but it was also very important that they were responsible themselves and was self motivated to recover.
The next two days were mostly with people who suffered from schizophrenia and dementia respectively. The day at the women’s ward was yet another insightful one as I had the chance to hear more stories from the patients. Though many were not very responsive and were not very willing to tell their story as they felt that the psychiatrists would judge them, those who told their stories often told them with many emotions. Though it was very apparent from their stories that they were disillusion, the way they told their story could almost make you believe them, and there I could feel that they were really bothered by it, and to them it was really very real. I was feeling slightly dejected that they were mentally suffering so much, especially those with constant suicidal voices in their heads were just really bothering them, but I saw slightly more hope that when they slowly recover, though they can’t fully recover from it, they could cope with it and they would be able to lead normal lives.
On one of the days, we were taken to the Oxfordshire Complex Needs Service, where it developed ways of working with people who have long term emotional difficulties, trouble coping, or mental health difficulties, many which had personality disorder. They helped individuals confront conflict and find new ways of coping with difficulties by offering psychotherapy. Through interaction with patients such as sharing and games, it was very comforting to see how comfortable most of them were sharing about their experience and how far they had come. It was no doubt that they had gone through a very difficult time to approach recovery, but they were full of hope and for those who were completing their therapy, not just them, but those around them, could see the big change in their lives. At that place, it was such a different setting, so different from the hospital, you could almost feel like their was no barrier between a psychiatrist and a patient. It had such a welcoming ambience that you would forget that it was a place for the mentally ill. The whole environment truly helped them speed up their recovery, and the fact that no medicine was used, shows that recovery was not only through medication, that there were many ways to help someone recover.
It felt heartwarming to see so many top medical doctors being so patient with their patients and doing their best for their recovery, and it was a very eye-opening experience, especially seeing work outside the hospital, which at times may even be more effective for different diagnosis. Indeed, there is a rise in number of patients with psychological problems and each patient is just like other patients, who are ill but in another way, so should not be treated differently in any other way just because they are mentally ill. Through this experience, it has indeed ignited my interest in psychiatry, and I now definitely see that just like any other medical departments, is vital as part of the healthcare system as being mentally healthy is a blessing.
Not only has this work experience been an insightful one, it allowed me to learn a lot, and to continue to learn about it, and I would be very interested to work in psychiatry in the future.
Sreya, Student 2015
In the UK, a quarter of the population will suffer from a mental health problem in the course of a year, as will 20% of children. To me, this highlights the importance of mental illness and it is the reason why I became interested in a career in psychiatry. As a result, I decided to find out more about psychiatry in practice by undertaking a week of work experience. Going into my work experience week, I had some preconceptions about the world of psychiatry and mental illness. I expected patients to seem visibly disturbed or to have some sort of obvious behavioural markers of their ailment. I also imagined psychiatric wards to be highly secure units and all patients to be under supervision. All this turned out to be far from what I encountered.
It struck me that mental illness is not as physically transformative as people seem to think it is. Mental health problems do not lead people to take on the appearance of a mad person. Most people will look the same as they always have, making it harder for others to notice any changes. All of the patients I saw had no visible symptoms and they all looked perfectly well. Most patients in wards were not kept confined and many were allowed to leave the ward for periods of time during the day.
The absence of external manifestations or evidence of a problem in patients led me to appreciate that mental illness, unlike other forms of illness, must be much harder to diagnose and treat. Normal diagnostic techniques are not sufficient and treatment is much more complex. Psychiatrists need to take into account medical, personal, interpersonal and social aspects when treating a patient.
From the wide variety of patients I saw, I realised that, not only is there a huge range of mental illnesses, the manifestations of each of these are different for everyone. I came across patients with schizoaffective, bipolar and personality disorders; psychosis such as schizophrenia; old age psychiatric conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease; as well as more familiar conditions such as depression and anxiety. Some patients suffered from a combination of disorders. It became apparent that no two people are affected in the same way.
I was aware that mental health problems have an impact on people’s lives and their day to day functioning. However, sitting in on consultations with patients and their families, I came to understand the extent to which mental illness affects both the patient and those around them, and the impact that others can have on the patient. While some families seem to be supportive and try to help the patient, others were more reluctant to acknowledge and tackle the disease.
During session with patients, I noticed that psychiatrists ask far more personal questions than other doctors, and also receive far more personal information from their patients. There appeared to be a high degree of trust invested by the patient in the psychiatrist and extensive interpersonal skills required on the part of the psychiatrist to draw out the patients. In one meeting with a patient, psychiatrists seem to learn more about a person than most of us do after months of knowing someone. Other doctors focus more on the medical history of the patient, whilst psychiatrists use personal history as well, in order to understand what may be affecting the patient.
My main lesson from the week was that mental illnesses are unpredictable, widespread and can affect anyone. The variety of people I saw made me appreciate the breadth of mental illnesses and their various effects. People often feel embarrassed or afraid of those with mental illnesses or think that a mental health problem is far more dangerous and “dirty” than other diseases. The reality is quite the opposite; a mental health problem is no different from any other. Disease is defined as a malfunction of the body and mind. As a society we are nowadays very aware of the importance of mental wellbeing and managing stress or anxiety, but beyond this there is little understanding of diseases of the mind. We would not ignore someone with cancer or heart disease, but we do not know how to react to those with mental illness because we have many misconceptions.
From this week of work experience I have become even more attracted to psychiatry as a career. Every patient seemed to be unique and unusual, and every case is, therefore, intellectually challenging for the psychiatrist, demanding a high level of analytical expertise as well as interpersonal ability.