In my previous blog, I think I said nothing has changed. Well... I have been proven dead wrong in the last two weeks. Week 5 of Acute block was delivered normally, and we were told on Sunday evening that Week 6 (the final week) of Acute block would go ahead as much as possible. So we turned up for teaching on Monday morning and were told that everything had changed and sent straight home with all teaching and placement cancelled. We then had an online meeting from the Medical School saying that our next block (for me, Musculoskeletal care) had also been cancelled.
Usually in the last week of Acute block, you have lots of teaching sessions and then at the end you have a practical exam where you are observed performing an assessment of a patient and are then signed off for the block. However, considering the COVID-19 situation, this was cancelled and instead we were signed off by telephone by the block lead. I think mostly this was to make sure that were signed off for the block so we had it “banked” and wouldn’t have to re-sit it afterwards. For the rest of Week 6 of Acute block I mostly just did some book work and got on top of my notes to make sure I was using the time productively. To be honest, I was behind on my note-making so the week off was helpful.
The Medical School have been trying to update us as much as possible about what is happening, but of course its difficult as no-one really knows how things are going to go. For us third years it brings added uncertainty. Phase III (Years 3 & 4) are very tight for time. We have 8 specialist rotations January - December with only a two-week break in August. And then we have a revision block in January before sitting our final exams in February. In actual terms I have my 8 x rotations January 2020 - December 2020, and then January 2021 - February 2021 revision block and then final exams in February 2021. However, because of COVID, if we miss one 6 week block, we still have to do these hours somewhere else so we would lose revision period and/or exams would need to be moved to facilitate a revision period. So, by losing placement time now, it has potentially large repercussions for the course. The Medical School have been great in terms of working tirelessly to try and make sure missing things has the least impact possible, but of course it is hugely challenging for them to restructure the whole course for 4 years groups all of which have different requirements and challenges! I will keep you updated!
Another development in the last few days is the opportunity to work/volunteer in the NHS. The NHS is on the frontline of the epidemic and is struggling at the moment with staff illness and also an increase of demand, so they need more support than ever to deal with the consequences of the virus. To this end, they have asked medical students to help out within their competencies as far as possible. It's completely voluntary but we are going to get paid to help out with basic medical tasks. For us third years, this means that we are able to help with doing ECGs, cannulas, taking bloods and direct patient care (washing, dressing etc). I thought long and hard about whether to help and have decided that I will go for it, partly for myself in terms of keeping my clinical experience up to date and engaged, but also on a wider level to help out. COVID-19 is unprecedented and the event of a generation and anything that I can do to help, no matter how small, I feel duty bound to help, as (hopefully) a future doctor, a current medical student and also as a human being.
All of the blogs that follow will document this interesting journey until we get back to a “business as usual” medical school. Although formal medical education has been postponed for now, I think that education of a different type will happen whilst I’m working in this role and of course I still will have all of my book learning to do at home. I will keep you updated as always as we go through this challenging journey together, which I’m sure will be a steep learning curve for us all.