For the last two weeks I have been continuing my employment at University Hospital Coventry as a Medical Student Clinical Support. As I discussed during my last blog, this is to help the NHS deal with the increased demand expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, what have I been up to? Well, I am currently working 24 hours a week, which is 3 days of shifts from 12:00-20:00. Whilst at work, I am acting as a Healthcare Assistant, so helping to wash, dress, reposition, feed and just generally look after patients on the ward. In addition, I am allowed to carry out observations. These are done regularly for all hospital patients every couple of hours or so, usually by the qualified nurses on the ward. A standard set of observations includes blood pressure, pulse rate, breathing rate, consciousness level and temperature. We have been very busy on our ward, so I have helped the nurses by doing some of these observations and letting them get on with the drugs rounds and other duties that require a qualified member of staff. Medical students are taught to do observations as part of examinations (i.e. pulse for cardiovascular examination), but we aren’t taught to do observations in the same detail as nursing students. Having the opportunity to carry out so many has definitely increased my confidence and is hopefully a useful skill to take forward into my medical career when we finally go back to placement.
I have been settling into my ward and getting used to working again, as well as learning everyone’s names, which is slightly more difficult when you’ve never seen their whole faces as everyone permanently wears a mask while at work. I’d never realised before having to wear a mask which covers my mouth just how expressive my face can be and how much I use facial expressions to convey meaning whilst talking. I’ve been quickly learning how to use my eyebrows more to express more emotion – an unintended side effect of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment!)
Then I suppose I should discuss what’s happening with our course currently. Things are on hold until the NHS has dealt with the COVID-19 outbreak, at which point we should resume placements. It’s very difficult to say when the NHS will be stable enough to also deal with teaching us, but the University has posited July as a potential resume date, at which point we will have lost 3-4 months of placement. Final exams would be potentially pushed back from February to May and we would then do placement well into 2021 (when originally without COVID-19, placements should have ended December 2020 before revision and then finals in Feb 2021). There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment which is causing a lot of anxiety for everyone, and this is worst for the current third years who are the most senior medical students and so have the least time to make up any lost learning before graduating.
All of this anxiety about the future has been affecting me personally and my course-mates – we have joined the course to become doctors, but not just doctors for the sake of it. We want to be good doctors, who are able and good at doing the job of looking after people. For me personally, I don’t want to qualify and then feel like we aren’t as good as the years that have gone before us and those that come after us. Thus, it seems like a steep climb to the end – we will be out of practice with everything having had a 4 month gap, with less time to get to the same standard as our forebears in a changed NHS which may be unable to give us the same education as previously. I think this mountain must be surmountable – but at what cost? Added to that is the generally gloomy news; of economic uncertainty, of social isolation, of deaths in the news daily. The mental health impact on the UK mustn’t be discounted and I think will haunt us for years to come. As a former historian, I feel as though we are watching history unfurl before us – a turning point as real as the world wars, the nuclear age, the bubonic plague. As before, the solution is courage in the face of adversity – believe in better times and look after each other and we may yet see an end to this nightmare.