Getting ready for your first few days on the wards as a foundation doctor? Dr Ellie Mein offers her advice on what to look for, do and ask on your shadowing placement – so you can feel cool and confident on 1 August.

After years of studying, the prospect of starting work as a doctor may fill you with anticipation, excitement, anxiety or a combination of all of the above. A shadowing placement with the doctor you will take over from can be invaluable in addressing your concerns. Hopefully it can also help you hit the ground running on your first day on the job – but how can you make sure you get the most out of this placement?

Be professional

Firstly, don't forget the obvious considerations that applied during all your previous clinical placements, such as dressing appropriately, being punctual and being professional at all times.

It will also stand you in good stead to check any learning objectives before you arrive, so that you can be clear what is expected of you during the placement and what you should aim to achieve.

Get your bearings

Some of the first things you are likely to want to know include practical considerations such as the geography of the ward and hospital you are working in. If you are not already familiar with the layout, you will need to determine where key departments are and the quickest way to get there – for example the radiology department, the secretaries, and the doctors' mess, to mention just a few.

Similarly, being familiar with key members of staff when you start the job can make your life a lot easier. Ask the doctor you are shadowing to introduce you to the nurses and healthcare assistants, but also to important non-clinical staff such as the ward manager and secretaries.

When introducing yourself to patients, keep it simple and accurate – you are a newly qualified doctor who will be taking over from the current junior doctor in the next few weeks.

Finding out in advance what your daily and weekly timetables entail will help you know what to expect and to plan your time most effectively. When it comes to planning, it is also worth checking if the current junior doctor has a particular system for keeping track of the jobs that need to be done and how they ensure patients, particularly those on outlying wards, do not get lost to follow-up.

Being familiar with key members of staff when you start the job can make your life a lot easier.

All in the detail

If you consider what you will spend much of your time doing in your new role, it will quickly become clear that you will need to understand the paperwork (or its electronic versions) involved in being a junior doctor. 

Take note of how your predecessor arranges investigations, prescriptions, discharge summaries and so on. Have a close look at the forms they fill out for each of these processes, so you are happy that you know what is required. You may feel that you already know what the job entails after all your previous clinical placements, but it's quite different when you actually have to do it.

Attention to detail is key.

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Any questions?

You are likely to have many questions for the junior doctor you shadow, but try to remember that they have a job to do. As such, agree with them beforehand whether they want you to ask questions as you go along, or if they would prefer you to jot these down and ask them when you take a break.

You may wish to ask if they have any important hints and tips to impart to you about the job, but they can't tell you everything. It can be revealing to ask slightly more direct questions – such as what they wish they had known when they started, or what the best and worst parts of the job are. You may find it prompts them to give you a heads up about any pitfalls or odd consultant preferences you may inadvertently fall foul of. That said, it's always worth bearing in mind that your experience in that job and with certain colleagues may be very different to their experience.

Above all, it is key to not stray beyond your competence in an attempt to impress or not look inexperienced. If you are not sure, ask a senior colleague – it's all part of the learning process.

This page was correct at publication on 12/06/2017. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.