A year ago, I was sitting in the library at York Street where I was studying Neuroanatomy in preparation for my next oral anatomy exam, when I noticed that virtually everyone around me had cleared the room and were congregating in the hallways and stairwells.
Confused, yet unbothered, I continued to recite the cranial nerves to myself. Shortly after, we got an email from the Dean of the University stating that in-person teaching was suspended for the rest of the academic year, and that international students were urged to return home.
Within three days, I was back in the Bahamas with a few weeks’ worth of clothing and my backpack. I packed away my entire life in Dublin, and left my new home with so much anxiety and uncertainty about my education and future.
However, the response of my programme directors was second to none. Within days, they had transitioned our daily 9–5 in person lectures to online classes almost effortlessly. I adapted to my 'new normal' pretty quickly and, to be honest, studying for final exams on the beach while having access to all of my lecture recordings wasn’t so bad after all!
RCSI took swift action to ensure that our upcoming academic year would be as close to normal as possible. We returned to campus in learning groups of three, where we attended in-person lectures, tutorials and post mortem teachings with a pathologist twice a week.
For the days we weren’t at campus, we attended live online lectures where we were able to ask questions in real time and participate in class discussions.
As a graduate entry medical student, clinical placements are embedded between academic semesters, and in January of this year we had our first day on the wards. Everyone showed up to Connolly Hospital in our new bright blue scrubs, stethoscopes around our neck and medical instruments in pocket, eager to hit the wards and operating rooms. Communicating with patients through masks, having to sanitize consistently and take extra precautions came with its own challenges, but the consultants and junior doctors were patient with us and made sure we received the teaching and hands-on experience they felt were vital to our education.
Busy on the elderly ward at Connolly taking patient histories and doing examinations, it did not occur to me that the worsening COVID-19 cases in Dublin would pose a threat to my much-anticipated clinical placement... but it did. After a mere four days in hospital, our programme directors made the difficult decision to remove all students because it was no longer safe to continue.
Many students were disappointed, including myself, with a great deal of concern about how we would be spending the next three weeks instead. I have to say that, given the level of uncertainty and the sheer misfortune of the situation, RCSI once again proved itself to be a pioneer institution, focused on the success and well-being of its students.
The class was updated often via communications with our class representatives and online Q&A sessions with department heads. As an alternative to clinical placement, a daily history-taking tutorial was put in place where, within small groups led by clinical tutors, we were able to take full histories from patient actors and discuss the case as a group – starting with initial investigations all the way to management and patient discharge. Each day it was a new case, and a new opportunity to learn.
Our tutors ensured that the sessions were interactive, and we were all happy to participate to reinforce the concepts covered in our lectures. Undoubtedly, by the second week of these tutorials, I know I speak for the majority when I say that we felt our confidence improve immensely as student doctors. We are well on our way to succeeding at our final med long case examinations, thanks to the direct feedback and improvements we made each day.
In the face of such unfortunate circumstances in Dublin and around the world, I feel confident knowing that the quality of my education has been maintained, with major thanks to the RCSI faculty and administration for their unwavering support in ensuring that we are getting the most out of our time as medical students.
Charlsea Maynard, 2nd Year Graduate Entry Medicine