I still remember the exact moment when Prof. Sreenan came into the lecture theatre in Connolly Hospital and suggested that students book one-way flights home. Everyone knew it was coming at some point, but most of us had figured the virus would blow over in few weeks. However, as the weeks turned into months and numbers continued to rise, it became apparent this would not be the case.
I ended up finishing my second year in the Graduate Entry Medicine (GEM) programme online while home in Chicago and then began studying for the USMLE Step 1 exam. Luckily, I was able to take and pass the exam, but I soon began to wonder if my third year would start on time, if/when I would be able to go back to Ireland and how clinical placements would look during a global pandemic.
As the end of the summer approached, I was happy to hear that we would still be placed in hospitals, albeit in a modified manner. RCSI wanted to take all necessary precautions to maintain continuity of teaching, while also protecting students and patients. This meant students in clinical years would be tested for COVID-19 regularly, were required to fill out a daily health questionnaire and would be issued PPE packs for use on placements.
My first rotation was obstetrics and gynaecology at Rotunda Hospital and I was happy to see that the amount of patient contact was comparable to a normal rotation. The hospital was much less crowded due to the extreme limits on visitors, but that meant more access for us students. The following rotation was general practice, which was unfortunately mostly moved online due to restrictions. However, RCSI was able to make use of interactive online modules, as well as pre-recorded content, to supplement the in-person learning.
Now, as I am on my paediatrics rotation, I am happy to have had the chance to rotate in-person at several hospitals. COVID-19 has definitely changed the entire hospital experience, not only for students, but also for practitioners. Patients are advised to stay away from hospitals unless their illness is severe, which has led to less crowded wards.
Interestingly, the precautions have also reduced the incidence of common diseases, such as influenza and RSV, which usually place a huge strain on the health system. I know that, although my experience is different than I would have expected in previous years, it will be a benefit to my future career as a doctor to have been a frontline worker during a global pandemic.
Daniel Sherlock, Graduate Entry Medicine