ASPIRING medical students across Swindon gained hands-on experience at the Great Western Hospital this week exploring the field of medicine directly from the wards.

A total of 28 A-level pupils from New College, Ridgeway and St Joseph’s, as well as Cirencester and Chippenham, were selected to join the Dare to Doctor course, which started on Thursday and finished today, and offered a unique insight into the day-to-day work of Swindon’s consultants.

From shadowing junior doctors and consultants on their rounds and in the operating theatre, to practicing first aid and taking blood pressure on simulation mannequins, the teenagers covered more ground than most of their peers applying to read medicine at university.

Now in its third year, the programme was also a chance for the hospital to build a relationship with future medics and perhaps encourage them to return to GWH as junior doctors.

“The aim is to give sixth-form students at the end of their AS level year a taste of what it’s like to be a doctor essentially,” said clinical teaching fellow, Dr Helen Dee.

“And if they enjoy their experience here they might come back as junior doctors.”

She added: “The students shadowed junior doctors and consultants and they learned basic clinical skills like listening to the heart and taking blood pressure. We use a human patient simulation mannequin to teach them to listen to breathing.

“It can be really hard to obtain work experience in a hospital. And I think this is part of the value of this course. You are making a choice at 18 about what you want to do for the rest of your life so we want to help students make an informed choice. And applications are so rigorous these days that it will help them especially in interviews.”

The programme was just the incentive many needed to take the plunge and apply to study medicine at university.

“I think it’s really useful,” said 17-year-old Eliska Dsouza, a New College student. “It is not just me sitting there and them telling me about it, it’s about experiencing it. Every day I’m learning something new. Being able to practice taking blood pressure and using a stethoscope has been really good. At school we don’t have access to simulation mannequins.”

The course reassured 17-year-old Dawid Akala he had made the right decision by choosing a career in medicine.

“I found the course quite exciting because we got to see what we may be doing in the future,” said the New College student from North Swindon.

“I have just done my AS levels and it is motivating me to do better in college because you know what you are working towards. Shadowing doctors was the best part. It was a really good opportunity to ask questions.

“All this has made me sure about my decision.”