Despite the uncertainty and unanswered questions, I, for one, am ready.
Published: 2 April 2020
By Sanskrithi Sravanam
Final Year Medical Student
University of Oxford
Only a week ago, I was sitting in Kuala Lumpur International Airport waiting to get on a last-minute flight back to the UK. I had spent 5 weeks in Malaysia on my medical elective and was meant to fly out to New Zealand for the second half. Instead, I was rushing back home before countries completely shut down their borders and airlines grounded their flights.
It felt like I had landed in a battle zone rather than home. In the last week, the world has changed beyond recognition. Around the country families are bulk-buying toilet paper and groceries, the streets are deserted. I am swinging, on an hourly basis, between cautious optimism and abject horror while tracking the Covid-19 pandemic news.
Almost stranded halfway across the world and in a difficult situation financially was scary, but undoubtedly, I have had a better time than most medical students across the country. I finished my final exams at Oxford at the end of January and managed to squeeze in a bit of foreign travel before the WHO declared this a pandemic. Across the country, many final exams are cancelled or have shifted online, travels to overseas electives are banned, and there seems little opportunity to recoup any financial losses from travel insurance or otherwise. Adding to this, it was announced last week that 5500 final year medical students will be joining the NHS frontline. There is a lot of uncertainty and anticipation.
Nonetheless, I want to help wherever I can. I feel a sense of duty and moral obligation, with more than a pinch of nervousness. But when I see this sentiment mirrored across my year group, I feel a powerful sense of community. Not just final years, medical students at all stages have started volunteering in non-clinical roles as babysitters, pet sitters, meal preppers and friendly callers to those who feel lonely or isolated.
The change we face is monumental. Becoming a foundation doctor is a challenge. Despite being highly competent, foundation doctors require supervision and training. Becoming a foundation doctor in the middle of a global pandemic is a nightmarish scenario. A shed load of questions spring to mind: Will I be safe? Will I have basic protection when resources are already scarce? What will my role and responsibility be? What support will I have? Do I go straight to work? What about inductions?
At this point, we need direction and information. While communication is still patchy, the main thing to keep in mind is that this is a developing situation. We are learning more about the virus, its symptoms and potential management methods- i.e. what the situation demands. So, how to match demand with supply – in terms of workforce or resources – can only be established as we learn more about the situation.
The Medical Schools Council and BMA have been vital in advocating for final year medical students. A variety of organisations, such as Becoming a Doctor (@BecomingaDr), have organised interactive sessions where we can find guidance and advice for our soon-to-be doctor lives. Our medical schools would not graduate us, nor would the GMC register us to work, if they had any doubts about our competence. Yet, I have no idea what I do next. All I know is that despite the uncertainty and unanswered questions, I, for one, am ready.