The response to COVID-19 (coronavirus) has been a collaborative effort from teams across the hospital as well as members of our local community and volunteers. One huge contribution has come from nearly 150 medical students in their 4th, 5th or final year of study, who have made an enormous volunteering push, stepping into new roles to support their colleagues in a range of positions including anaesthetics, ITU, family liaison and ward work.
One group of these volunteers are the final year students who were taking their exams and preparing to graduate as junior doctors just as the pandemic hit. They were offered the opportunity to ‘fast track’ their appointment as first year interim (FiY1) doctors. We now have a group of 21 fast tracked interim doctors working across our hospitals - three of whom have shared their experiences below.
Dr Eleanor Wilson
One of the graduates now working at the Royal Free London is Dr Eleanor Wilson. “I remember that we were sitting our exams the day that Boris Johnson announced the lockdown,” said Eleanor. “We were getting ready to celebrate the first step towards our careers as doctors, when the reality of the situation hit home.”
Eleanor’s immediate response was to start volunteering at a local GP surgery. “I was contacting patients who needed to start social shielding to protect themselves from COVID-19. It gave me the opportunity to really understand the emerging situation. And then we were called back to the hospital - I put my name forward to start work at Barnet.
“In many ways it has been a positive experience. The team at the hospital have been very welcoming, and there is more support and more opportunity to learn and develop. Of course there are also challenges, especially on the emotional side – speaking to patients remotely or when wearing large amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) feels very unnatural. Overall, though, I’m very proud to be of use during such an unusual time, and so inspired to see how everybody is pulling together.”
Dr Ollie Ingham Clark
Dr Ollie Ingham Clark was also coming to the end of his exams as the COVID-19 pandemic began and, like Eleanor, he took the opportunity to start volunteering. “I wanted to make sure that I was doing something useful,” said Ollie, “so I took a placement as a medical student at the Royal Free Hospital. This lasted for a few weeks, and then we got the news that we could be fast tracked to become FiY1 doctors. This brought me more security about my role, lending a little bit of safety to very uncertain times.
“It’s so much better than sitting at home doing nothing. There is so much work to be done in addressing the pandemic, and this opportunity means that we can play our part as trained doctors, albeit at the start of our careers. It will also help accelerate our training; I am already learning so much from this experience.”
Dr Meg Hollands
For Dr Meg Hollands, joining the group of fast tracked FiY1 doctors has helped her to find purpose during the COVID-19 response. “It’s so easy to feel helpless in situations like this,” she said. “I’m glad that there is something that I can do to feel useful. When the lockdown started, I had the opportunity to volunteer as part of the Royal Free London’s COVID-19 team. This meant a lot of additional training for things like PPE. Because it was something so new, everyone was learning about the pathology together – it was nice to feel part of a team.
“Now I am part of the medical assessment unit, so I’m working with patients who don’t have COVID-19 - it’s a big change to be back on a normal ward. Overall, being fast tracked is a great experience. It means that we’re getting a lot more supervision and support, and will be a really nice bridge between studying and practicing as doctors.”