Blog: The transition from medical student to junior doctor during a global pandemic

Medicine student David has just completed his degree at Sheffield - he tells us more about what it's like to have graduated amid the current Covid-19 pandemic.

David O'Brien Medical Student

My name’s Dave (25), and I’ve just finished my medical degree in Sheffield. Originally from Leicester, I’m a lifelong Leicester City F.C. and Kasabian fanatic. Most of my spare time and money is spent travelling, going to gigs and festivals, and cycling in the Peak District. Admittedly, it’s been more of the latter in recent weeks! 

Why did you choose Sheffield?

Raised on an Arctic Monkeys-based diet, I felt an immediate affinity for the city that inspired Alex Turner’s lyrics from the moment I set foot in ‘God’s Own County’ for the Open Day back in 2012. With a diverse selection of pubs, clubs and music venues, it makes for a great nightlife. And what better way to blow away the cobwebs from the night before than with a cycle through the Peak District? 

What’s it like to have graduated amid the current Covid-19 pandemic?

In short, it is terrifying, but anxieties about starting work are nothing new. After six years of studying, socialising and enjoying life in a student bubble, I now find myself closing in on that first day on the job. Medical School is like an extended dress rehearsal for the big show: we learn our lines, we learn the moves, we learn where to stand and what to wear. What we don’t necessarily learn is how to actually do the job, i.e. all the administrative tasks and added responsibilities that you only learn by doing the job. So, on that first day that, when introducing myself as “Dave, one of the… doctors”, I’ll be expected – as a doctor – to know exactly what I’m doing. 

The transition from a happy-go-lucky student without responsibility to a Foundation Year 1 (FY1) Doctor entrusted with the care of real-life patients is rarely a seamless one. But under normal circumstances, newly-starting FY1 doctors have first to undertake a six-week apprenticeship placement in the interval between finishing medical school and starting work (May – June) where they shadow a current FY1 and learn the day-to-day duties of a doctor. This apprenticeship helps makes that leap from the student-with-all-the-questions to the doctor-with-all-the-answers that bit easier. However, a little-known coronavirus by the name of SARS-Cov-2 had other ideas. 

Covid-19 cases are still rising exponentially, and we are preparing for possibly the biggest challenge the NHS has had to face since its inception in 1948. 

What does that mean for you? 

On 24th March, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, stated that 5,500 final year medics will move to the frontline to make sure we have the people we need in the NHS to respond to this crisis. 

This means that instead of starting as FY1s in August, we’ll be starting work in the role of an ‘interim FY1’ (FiY1) in early May. The university will be graduating us three months early, with the General Medical Council (GMC) registering us as newly qualified doctors soon thereafter. 

Is it all doom and gloom? 

Of course not!

The heart-warming scenes from across the country during the ‘Clap for Carers’ demonstrates that there is still a lot of love and appreciation for NHS workers. Better still, more than 400,000 people answered the call to be NHS volunteers within 24 hours of the request. From the social distancing of all, to the active support of those willing and able, it is essential that we all do what we can. 

As final year students, we are now patiently waiting to be called into action. While we might not have the luxury of an apprenticeship afforded to previous years, ‘The Class of Covid-19’ are possibly getting something even more valuable – the opportunity to start work earlier than expected and make a positive contribution in these uncertain times. Undoubtedly, we don’t feel as prepared as we could be, but the reality is that no cohort of final year medics has ever felt ready on that first day as a junior doctor, and sometimes the only way of learning is by doing. Acknowledging our limitations, we will be welcomed into the workforce by our senior medics, nurses, and allied healthcare professionals, who will take us under their wings and equip us with the skills we need to make a difference over the next few months.

The NHS that emerges from the ashes of this crisis will surely be different to the one we see now: more technologically focused, more adaptable to future insult, but reliant as ever on the collective goodwill of the people within it. The next generation of doctors must embrace this challenge.

Want to find out more about our student experiences? Check out more student profiles here.

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