Becoming a doctor in the time of Covid19

My first degree was in Physiological Sciences, but I was always working towards applying to medicine and becoming a doctor. During work experience I met many doctors who inspired me further to follow my dream of becoming a doctor. It really is a privilege to study medicine and use the knowledge and skills I’ve gained to treat patients. I was lucky that I could identify senior colleague role models during my placements who have inspired me further to be an approachable and good doctor.

The Covid19 pandemic has really been a time for medical students, and first year doctors, like no other. I had returned to my studies in mid-March having completed my elective and at the end of my first week back, the University began to cancel placements and teaching sessions. By the following Monday, University as we knew it was cancelled and lockdown began. This was a time of great uncertainty for final year medical students who did not know what the rest of the year would look like. We were unable to complete the last two blocks which would have provided great experience in preparation for FY1 in August. All medical schools in the UK were quickly trying to adapt teaching, and think of ways in which the students could be assessed and progress, or graduate.

We found out that our final year OSCE was cancelled and we would need to complete and submit our portfolio a month early as our main assessment, while also choosing our locations and jobs for FY1. This meant we had many important decisions to make within a short period of time. Unfortunately, communication and support wasn’t so great during this time between the final year students and the medical school which heightened our anxiety. Many of us watching the news at home and seeing the COVID-19 crisis unfold were wondering if we would graduate early and be able to help the NHS in the pandemic.

As time went on, we were assessed on our portfolios, and could apply to the General Medical Council for early registration, and then for the role of an FiY1. This was a new role and we were not quite sure what it would entail. Having never worked in the health service before, I was anxious to find out how this worked, and we spoke with a BMA representative who was very helpful. The health board was responsive to queries and answered questions when they could about this new role and were understandably under a lot of pressure themselves.

When I graduated in April, I volunteered to start work early as an FiY1 to support the NHS during the pandemic. A few weeks after graduation I, along with many of my peers, began work in my new role. At first it was challenging to find our role within the current system as we still felt like medical students, but after a few weeks I began to grow in confidence and felt like a doctor.

Initially I thought that this would be a very scary time and that we would be thrown into the working environment with minimal additional preparation, but the support has been fantastic. In Tayside we had a mentoring system where FY2s would provide weekly sessions and support, FYs provided additional teaching and staff were extremely supportive.

I noticed throughout my time as an FiY1 that the team worked well together and although under pressure in uncertain times, they all motivated each other. Relatives and friends were unable to visit their loved ones unless they were towards the end of their life which was very hard to cope with. It meant that updates and sometimes challenging discussions took place over the phone instead of in person. The team were very proactive with this and ensured families knew how their relative was and what the plan was for them. If any of the team were off sick, everyone else pulled together to cover the required roles.

I have met some brilliant colleagues and patients to start my career and have found this experience as an FiY1 very positive. Being able to join the workforce and provide help in a time of need was a privilege for me. The support given to FiY1s by the team was excellent and everyone was very approachable and welcoming. They understood that we had been rushed through to this stage and were happy to give additional help and advice whenever we needed it. I have met many colleagues at all stages of their careers and I hope that in the future I can become as well-rounded as they are. 

Most people come into this career wanting to make a difference and help people, and I have learned that no matter who comes through the doors everyone works together as hard as they can to help each patient. Working cohesively with a team was essential to coping with the additional pressure and difference in presentation of illness. This is a strange time to start our careers and being able to get experience in a supported environment before starting FY1 in August has been very beneficial.

I had been selected to work in the COVID ward in my hospital which meant I would work there for a portion of my first FY1 rotation. A week before beginning FY1, I was informed that because of the lowered community prevalence of COVID, the clinical COVID response could be reduced. I was reallocated to my original Foundation Programme. During this time, everyone has needed to be flexible. The thought of being part of the COVID response was slightly daunting, but I knew that the skills I have learned in the FiY1 job will stand me in good stead.

I am proud that I have graduated as a doctor and contributed to the health service at a time of need and uncertainty. Graduation was a few months earlier than intended and under slightly unusual circumstances, but my peers and I have been able to step up and work as part of the team to make a difference and ease some of the pressure on a stretched service. I also learned another new, unexpected, skill: smiling with my eyes. Because of the mask, communication with patients and colleagues is additionally challenging. Being able to show empathy and provide reassurance for people who were afraid to come into hospitals because of COVID-19 is crucial and I have adapted my communication skills.

I really hope that over the next few years I will continue to contribute to the NHS as a Junior Doctor and in the future I aim to become a General Practitioner with a special interest in Rheumatology.

Here are a few top tips for those looking at a future career in medicine, and those starting university this coming September:

For those considering applying to medicine:

  • Carry out plenty of work experience to get a feel for what being a doctor will be like. It is a challenging but rewarding career.
  • Do lots of research about how to get into medical school and practice for the UKCAT!

For those starting to study medicine:

  • Be organised
  • Find your close group of peers and build a strong relationship to work positively as a team. This is a skill you will continue to use and will help you through the challenging times at medical school. Having a support system is key to success.
  • Get involved when on placements and ask lots of questions – most people are happy to help!
  • Find role models wherever you go and work towards being an excellent doctor.

Dr Amy Paterson

If you’re not a member of the BMA and feel inspired to join and make our collective voice stronger, please click here. If you’re already a member and want more information on how to make the most of your membership, please click here.

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