Clinical attachment


What is a clinical attachment?

Clinical attachment, also known as observership, is a period of clinical experience in which the candidate spends time shadowing other doctors and health professionals in order to familiarise themselves with the mode of operation and practice within their chosen department or hospital.

There are variations in the level of responsibilities which the candidate can have depending on their level of experience or their medical registration status. For some, the experience is solely focused on observing colleagues and for others, they could be involved in carrying out medical procedures such as blood sampling or ABGs. There are also a few who carry out actual clinical duties like see patients and come up with management plans.

Are clinical attachments important?

Based on personal experience and the experience of colleagues, it is safe to say that clinical attachments are an important part of getting accustomed to the way the UK health system works. It goes a long way in helping medical expats settle into the system without having to take sole responsibility for managing the patients. It also helps to understand how the interactions with other allied services work in the UK health system.

It can often be a shock to go into a new post in an unfamiliar hospital or system and be expected, on the first day, to perform as well as someone who has always trained in the system. However, for those people who have had a period of clinical attachment, they are often able to absorb that pressure better, having familiarised themselves with the system.

Having a period of clinical attachment doesn’t mean you lack confidence in your abilities, it simply means you want to take the opportunity to understand the system better in order for you to be able to actually showcase your knowledge and skills in the most effective way when the time comes.

When should I plan to have a clinical attachment?

There is no right or wrong time to have a clinical attachment. However, people find it more useful after completing their PLAB exams. This is because they already have an idea of what to expect and they should be more relaxed about it, having got the exams out of the way. For doctors who have completed their GMC registration at the time of their clinical attachment, they can often be able to do more in terms of contact with patients.

How long should a clinical attachment be for?

Again, this depends on the individual and on how long the trust allows. Some individuals prefer shorter periods like 1 week while others go on for a couple of months. Whatever length you choose, the most important thing is to ensure that you achieve your aims at the end of it.

What should I aim to achieve at the end of my clinical attachment?

There are a few goals which could be achieved during a clinic attachment.


  • Learn how to use the electronic patient systems, including pathology request and result systems
  • Learn how referrals are done between different specialties.
  • Learn about the allied services (eg. children and adult services, safeguarding) their function and how to liaise with them
  • Learn about the hierarchy of responsibilities within the team
  • Learn how MDTs function


These are a few ideas of things that can be learned during a clinical attachment. It is not by any means an exhaustive list and you can always think about those things you feel you want to know. Also, as different hospitals operate differently, there will always be variation in the way services are organized.

How to get a clinical attachment placement 

There are different ways of getting an attachment place, but the first consideration for you should be what part of the country you want to have the attachment in. It is also important to give consideration to your costs while on attachment as you are not likely going to be earning.

One way to get an attachment place is to go to the website of the hospital where you want a place and check if they have any information about clinical attachments. If they don’t have this information on the website, you could contact the HR to inquire.

For some hospitals, you have to get in touch first with a consultant who would be willing to supervise you during your attachment, and then you’ll go through the normal HR procedures.

In conclusion, clinical attachments are an important part of the transition for medical expats in the UK and they provide useful experience in a lot of cases. However, you must ensure that your plans are well thought out and that you have considered your costs as well.

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