Written By Sara Khalid
BMBS BA (Hons) University of Exeter
Interim Foundation Year 1 Doctor
First Published: 2 July 2020
Right now I should be in Cornwall.
I should be shadowing an F1, usually Monday to Friday 9-5, but probably being let off early every time the weather or waves were good, to get on the beach or squeeze in a surf. I should have a great tan and a maxed out iCloud from all the amazing photos I took whilst on my two month elective in Pakistan and Vietnam. I should be gearing up to start work in August, using the last few months as time to fine tune all the skills I’ll need to be great an F1. I’d be the first one volunteering to take blood, put a cannula in and write in the notes. Instead, I’m living in a hotel in a new city. I’m working in a hospital totally new to me, that I will leave again at the end of July. I should be a medical student but I’m writing this as an interim doctor- a brand new position the NHS has never seen before.
I was two weeks into my elective in March, when everything rapidly began changing. I received a message from a consultant I had been working with, explaining that all placements at the hospital had been suspended, advising me to go home. Hours later, it was announced that Pakistan were shutting their borders and maybe minutes after that, I received an email from my airline informing me that my flight had been cancelled. Three days later, I was back at home in London, aware that my final year of medical school was going to be very different to how I had imagined.
In the following weeks, there was a great deal of uncertainty and even more rumours. However, some of the rumours turned out to be true, as my medical school gave me the option of early graduation. I accepted this, not fully knowing what this would mean. My medical school, despite being hugely supportive were equally as in the dark. We were no longer under their care and at the mercy of the foundation program as to what would happen next. A week or two later, I received an email stating that a hospital in South Thames had accessed my details. This was not the hospital, I was due to start work at in August, and I wasn’t really sure what “accessing my details” meant. It soon became apparent that this was the hospital I had been allocated to start my interim position at and I decided to take the position.
The following days were filled with paperwork and online learning. Myself, like many of my peers were under the impression, that interim positions would involve working away from COVID patients and in the hours of Monday to Friday 9-5. However, when I received my rota, I found I was on the COVID mega rota and I was working a 52-hour week consisting of 13-hour shifts, including nights.
The panic began to set in. I had not been in a UK hospital since the end of February I had sat my finals at the end of fourth year and I had not had the shadowing practice I was initially expecting before starting the job. Many of my peers had decided not to start working, reasoning that they were going to work for the rest of their lives, so deserved this break. They had concerns about the environment they were going to be thrown into. My reasoning for choosing to work was mainly two fold. Firstly, I wanted to help. Was this not the very reason
99.9% of us cited in our interviews, when trying to win places onto a medical course- I want to help people? This was a chance for us to be useful, utilise all our hard work over the last 5 years to help give back to the hospitals and teams that had done so much to train us. In a world where a pandemic was causing a lot of people to feel anxious and uncertain, we were able to step up and attempt to do our bit to help. It felt like my duty to get involved. Secondly, and far more selfishly, I wanted to get back in the hospital environment. I knew the first day as a doctor would be terrifying but I did not want to show up in August having not stepped in a hospital for months. This was my chance to have a test run. To be more supported by seniors than I would have been in August. To ask as many questions as I possibly could so that when August came, maybe I would feel slightly more prepared.
Joining the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely been one of the biggest challenges I have had to face. Being thrown into a struggling healthcare system, in a position that has never existed before, during a global pandemic, in a brand new hospital where you will only stay for a few months, having missed out on your elective and graduation ceremonies is testing. However, with high risk, comes high reward. Not only do I think this will help me professionally but personally too. I will be able to face a lot worse having joined the NHS at this time. and, when reflecting back on this crazy time, will be immensely proud to say I was a tiny part of it.