Interview: 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.

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.


In order to reduce the number of cases of COVID-19, the government has brought a ‘lock-down’ measure into place to reduce the transmission rates. This has had an impact on thousands of university students across the UK, in particular, for medical students who need to progress through the system to ensure an adequate amount of junior doctor positions are filled each year. In this article I interview five 3rd-year, 4th-year and intercalating medical students on how coronavirus has impacted their studies.

 

Q.     How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your studies?

Medical students anticipate that the pandemic will tremendously affect their careers:

 “I wanted to become a paediatrician but because of everything going on I haven’t had that rotation and I don’t know if I will have a chance to experience that rotation whilst studying medicine. I feel like that will have a whole impact on my career choice because it’s difficult to make a career choice based on something you’ve never done and it’s so different from the other branches of medicine.”

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


“Because university is now cancelled, I’m now not able to do the surgery rotation. It got cancelled on the second day of a ten-week block. That is very upsetting for me because I was considering a career in surgery and that is the biggest exposure to surgery that you get in medical school.”

 – Anonymous, 3rd year medical student


The intercalating students are experiencing a lot of apprehension around their end of year assessments and what this means for their overall grade. One of the students reported:

“Everything has changed. We were meant to go to Nepal to collect data for our final research project, but it got cancelled last minute. The format for the project has changed. It’s been 2 and a half weeks since the cancellation of our trip to Nepal and there is no rubric to guide us. I think the biggest issue is the uncertainty that comes with the pandemic, not knowing what to do and the university not knowing what to do.”

- Zhin Tan, intercalating at Imperial College London.

 

Q.     How has that made you feel?

All students expressed how this is an unsettling time. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the requirements to pass the year and what the next steps forward are to make up for this missed clinical exposure. Nevertheless, one student was able to make a positive out of the situation by explaining:

 “if you look at the bigger picture of what is going on it is a small sacrifice.  It is like an obstacle in the way and you just have to deal with it”

- Nidhi Vedd, intercalating at Kings College London

 

 Q.     What are you most worried about?

All students were concerned about the lack of physical contact hours in hospitals and with their lecturers/supervisors. Concerns were around how this will impact their overall grade and, for the 3rd and 4th-year medical students, how this would impact them as a doctor.

 “I’m missing out on one of the core rotations of the year, 1/3 of our exam is on paediatrics...
... When we graduate, I’m worried that we won’t have the practical skills that we need.
We were going to have a clinical skills session where they were going to teach us how to do ABG’s, blood transfusions and blood cultures. I’m sure they will put it into the programme somewhere, but I feel like it will be so rushed.”

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


“My supervisors are clinicians; you have to go to them in person if you need help with your project. They’re busy so not as good at replying to emails … my dissertation isn’t going to be that good because I can’t physically get the help I need.”

- Anonymous, intercalating medical student at UCL

 

Q. How has your university supported your educational needs?

Universities have been trying to find solutions to reduce the negative impact of the pandemic on studies. Universities have communicated across that support is readily available remotely and have implemented strategies in place to lighten the burden. It was also evident that due to the new situation, universities are dealing with a problem they’re still learning from and there is little they can do at such an early stage.

“They’ve increased remote access to things so you’re not disadvantaged when being at home. For example, they’ve added a lot more eBooks to the library ...

... They’ve put online assessments in place but haven’t said what they are.”

- Anonymous, intercalating medical student at UCL

 

“The course leads were good at breaking bad news to us – that we were not going to Nepal and that there would be support available for everyone. If we ask for support they will give us support but, at the same time, the course leads hands are tied as a lot of the rules are set centrally by the university… When we express our concerns our course leads reply saying we understand but we can’t give you any more information right now. They want to help you, but they can’t – it’s that kind of hopelessness”

 - Zhin Tan, intercalating at Imperial College London.

  

Q. If you could change or suggest one thing to help, what would it be?

We are all understanding at this difficult time and appreciate that it is hard for universities to suddenly come up with a plan to make up for the missed opportunities, however, some suggestions include:

 

“It isn’t realistic for them to expect us to pick up these skills we were meant to learn over the next ten weeks in year 4 and 5… they should replace the placements we are going to lose by organising them over summer.”

– Anonymous, 3rd year medical student.

 

“University should break down their discussions around our assessments and publish their meeting minutes so we have an idea about what they’ve discussed.”

- Zhin Tan, intercalating at Imperial College London.

 

Overall, medical students in all year groups have been affected. There is a lot of apprehension surrounding exams, progression and how this will affect competency in the future. At the moment there is little we can do as students other than providing each other with emotional support.

 

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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