I find myself writing this on the 19th day since the Head of Undergraduate Medicine wrote to us all with guidance about our teaching and exams given the COVID-19 pandemic. When I opened that email, I read the first paragraph and then skimmed the rest until my eyes came to the assessment section: year 6 written paper to be postponed, yet unsure on the year 3 OSCE and 5 PACES (practical exams were later cancelled). Then my eyes saw the sentence written in bold below… ‘Clinical placements: All clinical placements are now suspended until further notice.’ As soon as I saw this a smile stretched out across my face and I contacted my friends and family letting them know. The reasons for my happiness being: a) my family and I had been worried about the current situation, with coronavirus being present in placement hospital sites due to the high risk of spreading it to many people at university and to elderly relatives and b) I presumed it wouldn’t be that long of a break – surely at most a month or so?! (how wrong was I).
By the end of that week, there was a massive change in everyone’s understanding of COVID-19 and how it was affecting our country. People who had been scoffing at the virus in other countries suddenly started not going out or fleeing back home amidst rumours of a ‘lockdown’ in London. Also, many of our university society events were sadly cancelled and, in a week, or so Prime Minister Boris Johnson had publicly called out the large groups of people attending parks and other social spaces. This led to the allowed group number of people allowed out together being 2. I think what people found to be the biggest surprise was how sudden and snow-balling all these changes seemed to be – on the day of ICSM Fashion Show, just 10 days or so prior, no one would’ve predicted that this all would’ve happened!
Other more recent developments that have followed involve the conscription of our beloved final years and nursing students. This was an announcement made by Matt Hancock and followed through by many final years eager to help. In addition, the provision of personal protective equipment and lack of accessible testing of health care professionals has come under fire repeatedly and I hope this is addressed very soon by our government or else shouted about louder still by the media. And sadly, we have had our first deaths due to the coronavirus – Dr Saadu, Dr Habib Zaidi, Dr Adil El Tayar and Dr Amged El-Hawrani who I wish to pay tribute to, as well as the other NHS staff who are risking their lives everyday for the health of their patients and country.
Amongst all of this change, there have been many positive developments and testaments to our resilience in the many communities that we are blessed to be part of. I have seen friends celebrate other friends’ birthdays virtually via surprise video chat, sharing of photos and best memories on social media which have made me, and countless others smile. The Corona Kindness hashtag has also been used across social media as part of a campaign by ICSM Welfare and has shown friends cooking for their families and shopping for those who are too weak to or are in self-isolation. These have been heart-warming to see and have shown positivity shining through in what could easily be a dark time for some. Lastly of course the tsunami of nominations and challenges on ‘Instagram’ that took place within the first week or so of social distancing which pretty much everyone got involved with in some way, and not to mention the mass ‘Houseparty’ rush (which was good while it lasted).
“Amongst all of this change, there have been many positive developments and testaments to our resilience in the many communities that we are blessed to be part of.”
The spreading of people’s own mental health journeys and the power of self-care across social media has also been an amazing way to raise awareness of such an important issue at this critical time. Mental and emotional health is important always, but many people have felt troubled by the situation they find themselves in now with COVID-19 – they feel restricted, anxious, lonely and helpless – and so the help, support and education being spread across social media really is invaluable.
The pick-up of our medical education by faculty and MedEd for year 3 has given me confidence that I will be learning to the equivalent of what I would’ve on placement, at least in theory. My parents have come into the study when I have had zoom on and been impressed with the commitment by our medical school to keep up our education and prepare us as best they can for our exams and the future. The other online resources are also proving useful in consolidating knowledge and I feel more comfortable getting back into the groove of working from a desk everyday instead of going into firms and learning on placement. Like everyone and with everything, there are good days and bad days and now more than ever I believe it is imperative to have balance, with going outside (for my once daily exercise), eating well and doing something that you enjoy every day.
I’d like to also recognise some of my peers who have also started their ICSM-V journeys, volunteering on the wards: by taking patient’s temperatures, conducting ECGs and fitting masks which is so inspiring to hear and see them actually helping the NHS and patients with the coronavirus.
To conclude, with a situation that no-one could have predicted, that is until the Imperial College modelling came out and was showed to the Prime Minister, it is all too easy to focus on all the uncertainty and to feel helpless within ourselves. However, in a community as talented and driven as ours there will always be adaptations to be made and old traditions to be evolved. Although, it is hard, often confusing and sometimes sad, I find it also truly humbling that history is being made. People are stepping up like they never have before and we have the chance to both bear witness to it first-hand and be part of the solutions in some way.