Interview Follow-up: How is COVID-19 Affecting UK Medical Students?

Hear from our Guest Reporter Yasmin Dhuga, current undergraduate medical student from Brighton and Sussex Medical School, on the experiences and impact COVID-19 has had on medical students in the UK in this follow-up interview.

View the first interview here.


Yasmin is an active student member on MedShr and has shared educational cases with colleagues and MedShr's international network. During this time of 'lock-down' in the UK, when Universities are closed, she has prepared an original article featuring the first-hand accounts from fellow medical students, sharing insights into this unprecedented situation.


I decided to interview 4 out of 5 the students I interviewed in March, plus one extra 4th year medical student, to see how they have been progressing through medical school/ their intercalated BScs during the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. In this article, I present my findings.

How did your university deal with disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic?

It was evident that the ability to adapt was a fundamental requirement from all universities seeing as lockdown occurred just a few months before exam season. This was particularly the case when it was apparent that written exams would not take place. Generally, medical students reported back similar feelings about how their university responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Very slowly. Some decisions took longer than needed, ie. The safety netting policy and how we were going to change our projects. However, there was good transparency from the university via newsletters providing updates.”

– Zhin Tan, intercalating at Imperial College London.



“All of our exams have been online and are 24 hours. They cancelled all of our powerpoint presentations and replaced cancelled assessments with coursework, so for me they replaced a cancelled exam with 2 essay and my presentations with an essay.”

– Momna Raja, intercalating at UCL


What else can your university do to benefit medical students?

The overall consensus is that universities should improve the resources available to medical students to make up for missed face-face lectures and clinical placements.

“They should Increase live sessions between doctors and medical students as we are massively missing out on clinical exposure at the moment.”

-Sana Ditta, 4th year medical student, Brighton and Sussex Medical School.



“Brighton and Sussex medical school have so far provided us with a clinical skills booklet so that we don’t forget certain things and it can keep us up to date with relevant skills. I think that maybe it’s less important for intercalators but it would be good to have the resources and handbooks etc for 4th year so we can become familiar with this.”

- Nidhi Vedd, intercalating at Kings College London.


How have you been over the last few months?

All medical students explained how the last few months have been challenging by having to deal with the unexpected. Nevertheless, it is important to remain positive, remembering these times are only temporary.

“I’ve been good, but there is a lot of uncertainty about what the future holds for medical students!”

– Sana Ditta, 4th year medical student, Brighton and Sussex Medical School


“To begin with it was a bit of an adjustment and shock with life essentially halting. However I was preoccupied with a lot of revision for my exams, so I was quite busy for the first 2 months. I’ve actually been surprisingly okay. I’ve enjoyed my time a lot- being at home has been a luxury, so I’m grateful for that. Also I’ve been exercising more than before which is working out well. I would still like to be more productive in things I achieve and do every day.”

- Nidhi Vedd, intercalating at Kings College London


“In terms of with university work, I think it is difficult to adapt to this new style of online teaching and not being able to have face-to-face teaching and be on the wards. The past few months have been quite difficult too, especially with lockdown, as it can feel quite isolating at times.”

– Arousa Maqsood, 4th year medical student, Brighton and Sussex Medical School


How has your university supported you?

During these uncertain times, it is reassuring to hear that universities have gone out of their way to make adjustments, especially in terms of exam arrangements which, for medical students, is one of the most stressful experiences of the year. As well as this, most universities seem to have enough support in place, should students need it.

“In terms of student support, the university is fab, but in terms of teaching and learning materials, I feel more could have been done!”

– Sana Ditta, 4th year medical student, Brighton and Sussex Medical School

 

“The university has offered up good sources of support with student bodies and councils, however, I haven’t felt the need to utilise any. They have also made the exams more lenient in terms of marking”

– Nidhi Vedd, intercalating at Kings College London

 

“They’ve been really good at replying to emails. They’ve changed our exams dates after I asked them to (as a course rep) because the exams were too close together.”

- Momna Raja, intercalating at UCL


What have you learnt the most from lockdown?

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned everyone’s lives upside down. From not being able to travel to university/work/school every day, to not being able to see friends and family. Lockdown has given many people more free time. Being able to stop and reflect on our experiences is fundamental for personal progression and is also an essential skill drummed into us at medical school. This question revealed a lot of uplifting reflections from how medical students have discovered how to better prepare for the unexpected, to how they are learning from this experience to prepare them for life.

“I’ve learned myself that I have to, can and should be able to adapt to the changes life throws without catastrophising it, also, this really is a period of time in life we won’t get again, so I’d like to not have any regrets or wishing I did this or that during it, so I’m trying to work on myself and certain skills that I wouldn’t normally do like play the piano again, and get my splits!! ….. In the bigger picture a lot is happening in the world right now, life changing events and revelations, perspectives are changing universally, and it almost seems as though this year’s purpose has been and is to reform the way we approach life and other humans.”

- Nidhi Vedd, intercalating at Kings College London

“You always need to be prepared for the worse because anything can happen…. It’s given us a chance to stop and take a breath and check where we are…..I think I’ve also learnt about e learning and how big it is. It’s been a good time to network with people who are not necessarily in your department or at your university, for example I signed up for a course with Harvard medical school, before, you never would have signed up for things like this - but now you’re connecting with people from all over the globe.”

- Momna Raja, intercalating at UCL

 

“I think it taught me that nothing is impossible – I don’t think we ever anticipated something like this to happen to us. Everything went from being fine to suddenly the whole world being on hold and now it’s important to think this time also won’t last forever”

– Arousa Maqsood, 4th year medical student, Brighton and Sussex Medical School


It was a pleasure talking to these students again and finding out how they have been getting on during these unprecedented times. It was reassuring to hear that universities have implemented schemes to support their students and have been able to come up with alternative solutions to ensure students can still progress through university. However, it is evident that there is a lot of work ahead of us all to ensure that we will all be ready to qualify as doctors within the next few years.


Acknowledgements:

I would like to thank the undergraduate students from the Brighton and Sussex Medical School, Imperial College London, Kings College London and University College London for voluntarily shared their experiences for the purpose of this interview.


By Yasmin Dhuga,

Brighton and Sussex Medical School, undergraduate medical student

Intercalating in Remote Medicine, Imperial College London.

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