The Savvy IMG

12 essential items for IMGs working in the NHS

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12 essential items for doctors imgs nhs plab

Starting your first job in the UK is an exciting time. It’s almost like your first day at a new school and you want to make a good impression. One of the best impressions you can make is being well-prepared, and part of that is having all the important items that will help you get through the day.

Here’s our list of 12 essential items from our personal experience as IMGs working in the NHS. Having all of these in-hand before you start, will help you feel prepared for any situation!

We have also convieniently included a link to each item on Amazon where you will usually find the lowest prices.

1. Stethoscope

For most IMGs working on the wards or in A&E, a stethoscope is an essential item. The hospital department will have most other equipment that you need, but having your own stethoscope that fits yours ears well and that you’re used to using is vital. Check here on Amazon if it is cheaper to buy it in the UK.

If anyone borrows your stethoscope, make sure to ask for it back as soon as they’re done. And do not leave a ward or department before having it in your hands or at least in your sights. Once it’s been put down somewhere, it may never be seen again. I lost mine within the first 6 months!

Of course, to prevent this, we recommend attaching your name and contact number to your stethoscope. Kimberly has had her stethoscope returned to her a couple of times because she had her mobile number on it.

Considering buying a Cardio Steth?

A cardiology stethoscope tends to be double the price of a standard one, but if you are sure about pursuing an acute medical specialty in the future, you may want to plan early and buy a cardio steth as early as now so you don’t end up buying two. Almost all medical registrars  I know use a cardiology stethoscope instead of an ordinary one.

If you’re undecided, maybe ask someone you know who has one if you can try theirs first to see if you like it before buying.

2. Pocket reference book for your specialty

Having information on your smartphone is handy, but sometimes it’s just quicker to use a book. The most commonly used pocketbooks by UK doctors are the Oxford Handbook series. They are written according to the UK guidelines and frequently updated every 2-3 years.

For those starting in SHO level jobs, we recommend starting with the Oxford Handbook for the Foundation Programme. Once you’ve settled into the UK system, you can then start thinking about buying books for specific specialties.

If you’re starting in the NHS in a middle-grade position, the Oxford Handbook for the Foundation Programme is still useful to familiarise you with the NHS system, but it would be good to get a specialty-specific book from the outset. Check if there’s an Oxford Handbook for your specialty here.

3. Clipboard or folder

Photo of male doctor with stethoscope and clipboard
You may find this a bit geeky, but we are big fans of the clipboard. There are many benefits to using one:
  • Keep details about your patients covered when you’re walking about the hospital
  • Avoid losing the patient list – and facing disciplinary action for not being careful with confidential patient information!
  • Keep empty paper request forms on hand – this will save you lots of time with ward work.
  • Easily write notes or fill out forms while standing – again, this helps save time with ward work.
  • Stick useful bits of information on it such as commonly used bleep numbers, drug regimens, protocols etc.

These are our suggestions:

4. Pens, pens, and more pens!

Stock up on pens, because when someone borrows your pen, you better be ready to say your goodbyes!

When buying pens, don’t forget that most hospitals will require you to write in black ink using a pen that does not smudge when wet. This means no fountain pens.

We have a big box of pens like this and make sure we have 3 pens in our bags at all times.

5. Small notebook

There’s a lot to learn when working in the NHS, and learning opportunities are everywhere. You’ll learn things on the ward round, at a teaching session, at a multi-disciplinary meeting, when you’re referring a patient to a specialist, during handover, and also while you’re discussing something with the nurse or pharmacist.

It’s quite handy to have a small notebook in your pocket to jot down those important pearls before you forget about them during the hustle and bustle of daily work.

We recommend going through your notes at the end of the day or week and scribbling the best lessons into your Oxford Handbook in the relevant section. That way, in the future, when you look up a condition, you’ll have all the lessons you’ve learned altogether in one place.

Personally, we prefer small notebooks that can be brought along anywhere:

6. Water bottle

When I was rotating in renal medicine, my registrar would constantly say that if we took bloods from doctors during their shifts, everyone would have some degree of AKI! And he’s probably right. Dehydration is rampant and I’ve seen a couple of young colleagues admitted with renal stones!

So don’t forget to drink water throughout your shift. A great way to remind yourself is to create a visual cue with your water bottle. Every time you see your water bottle or a water dispenser – DRINK!

We use this water bottle. It’s lightweight, durable, machine-washable, and doesn’t grow mould.

7. Thermos

If you need caffeine to get you started in the morning, I recommend using a thermos. It’s kind to the environment and it keeps your coffee or tea hotter for longer! 

You can either bring in your own hot drink from home, or you can get your Costa coffee poured directly into it. Most places that sell coffee will let you use your own container.

Here are a couple of highly-rated thermos mugs to check out:

8. Microwavable food containers

Bringing in your own food is one of the best ways to save money. Buying a meal everyday can cost £6 or more, while a home-cooked meal can cost less than £2 per serving. If you go to work 5 days a week, that’s a minimum saving of £20/week or almost £90/month.

Definitely invest in leak-proof microwave-safe containers. Don’t worry, every hospital will have somewhere that staff can store food in a refrigerator and use a microwave.

9. Battery pack and charger cable

A smartphone is a helpful tool when working as a doctor. You can use it to make calculations and conversions, refer to the drug formulary, review hospital guidelines, and search textbooks. You’ll likely be using it quite often throughout the day so you don’t want the battery to go dead just when you need it! Especially if your shift is 12 hours long!

We recommend purchasing a compact battery pack and bringing a cable to work so you can charge on-the-go if you need to. You never know when you might need to look something up!

These 2 are ultra-compact and fit right in the pocket:

10. Comfortable shoes

Hospital work involves a significant amount of walking and standing. In one study, it showed that NHS staff walk almost 4 miles a day! So it’s very important to have professional looking but comfortable shoes.

It’s not a great idea to wear colourful sports shoes to work if you want to be taken seriously, but there are a variety of black designs that might do the trick.

If you can’t find a shoe design that meets both your style and comfort needs, you can also consider orthotic insoles to make any shoe more supportive.

11. Compression stockings

In line with comfort, we encourage you to try wearing compression stockings. Compressions stockings improve blood flow and help to reduce the muscle cramps and aches you get at the end of a long shift. This is especially true if you’re working in surgery and expect to be standing for long periods of time.

An additional benefit is that they keep you warm in the winter months!

There are plain ones and ones with fun designs that can be worn under trousers or scrubs. Here are a few to check out:

12. Sturdy work bag

Lastly, you need a good sturdy bag to hold all your essentials. We recommend using a backpack type bag for a few reasons:

  1. They’re much more ergonomic than shoulder bags so you won’t get asymmetric muscle ache when taking it to work every day.
  2. They’re spacious and can hold a lot of items.
  3. And they tend to have lots of pockets and compartments to make it easier to find what you need when you need it.

It’s best to get backpacks that are easily cleaned, so either get one with material that can be wiped down or one that is machine washable.

You won’t need to bring your laptop to work often, we’ve rarely needed to, but if you foresee bringing yours in the future then be sure to buy one with a padded laptop pocket.

Here are a couple of highly-rated bags for your consideration:

12 essential items NHS job IMG PLAB doctor
We hope you found this list helpful! Don’t forget to label your possessions with your name and number. Trust us, it’s so easy to lose things in a hospital!

Disclosure: There are some affiliate links in the article above. This means that at no additional cost to you, we may earn a commission if you make a booking or purchase by clicking on the link. We only recommend products and services that we use ourselves or have proven success amongst IMGs.

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Meet the Team

Hi, we’re Drs Nick & Kimberly Tan, the two IMGs behind The Savvy IMG. We write comprehensive guides, create courses, and provide one-to-one guidance to help other overseas qualified doctors on their journey to the UK.
We have scoured the official guidance to put these posts together, but we can make mistakes! If you spot anything that is incorrect, please get in touch and we’ll put it right.
Photo of Dr Nicholas Tan