The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly affected every sector of education and Medicine is no exception. Medical students are used to being on wards all day, meeting and treating new patients, and having bedside teaching sessions. Below, third year medical student, Masumah Jannah, talks us through the Manchester’s medical school’s response to the pandemic…
I was on my respiratory placement when it started to become more and more apparent that that COVID-19 situation was evolving at a rapid pace. There were some conversations had among students and hospital staff about what would happen if the situation were to evolve in the UK, but I don’t think we ever envisaged it to grow to the scale it has done.
Prior to the lockdown
The lockdown was announced on the 23rd of March, but prior to lockdown we started receiving correspondence from the university regarding the changes that would be to follow. The first email indicating change arrived on the 13th of March letting the clinical year medical students know that exams would be postponed and further information would follow.
Four days later everything was clarified with an email telling us the academic year would now be regarded as “over” and that all students would be automatically progressed on to the next year. International students were advised to return home as quickly as possible and students were told they could vacate their student accommodation as there would be no more teaching for the foreseeable future.
In clinical years of medical school (3-5) all our teaching is done in a clinical environment, meaning there will be huge changes in the way we work. As a third year student I’m in quite a lucky position in the sense that my mandatory placements for the year had naturally come to an end just three days before the medical school cancelled everything! You can read more about exactly how it affected third year specifically here. Fourth year students did still have placements to finish off so their placements will most likely have to be compensated for in their final year.
For the remaining part of third year we had a research project planned and a student selected placement where we had the opportunity to explore any speciality of our choice. I’m quite gutted about missing both of these opportunities, especially since I had already arranged them both and was so excited about getting started with them. Our research projects had to be either clinical or lab based – mine was clinical and would have therefore required my physical presence at a hospital. In addition, our supervisors are all clinical members of staff who at this time would have to prioritise patient care.
At Manchester we are lucky enough to get the opportunity to undertake research every year so missing out on this year’s project isn’t the end of the world as we’ll be able to take on another project in our following years. Similarly for our student selected placement, we do get another opportunity to explore a speciality of our choice in final year.
In fourth year, medical students have a unique opportunity to spend four weeks abroad or in a different part of the country to experience the provision of healthcare in a different setting. The elective is something that has to be arranged several months prior and is quite the highlight of medical school. Fourth year students were due to have their electives in June but due to the travel restrictions, this will no longer happen.
The main way we’re examined in medical school is through the use of OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Examinations) and the Progress Test. The OSCE is a practical exam where you have different stations to carry out different practical tasks such as examining a patient. My third year OSCE was only a week away so we were all knee-deep into revision once we were told it wouldn’t be going ahead which created a mixture of relief and disappointment across my year group. We do have OSCEs every year so despite missing out on this year’s examination these skills can easily be assessed during next year’s OSCEs.
The Progress Test is a paper-based multiple choice examination that you have to take each year. You take it twice a year and the idea is that you should see an improvement in your performance as you progress through medical school. For years 3-5 this is a particularly important examination as it counts towards the points we gain at the end of medical school. Unfortunately, it has also had to be cancelled. However, the medical school have arranged an online alternative that we can undertake just for practise – it will of course not count towards our points but will be helpful in allowing us to assess our own progress.
Years one and two have a lot of their learning delivered via lectures. Lectures are normally always recorded so you have the option to re-watch them in your own time. Due to the recent changes lectures are now only being made available online. Zoom group sessions have also been set up to allow the year groups that had weekly cases left to complete to still be able to do so.
Final year medical students would normally have started their first jobs as foundation doctors in August. Due to the pandemic a new role of FiY1 (Interim Foundation Year Posts) has emerged. The purpose of this is to allow fifth year students who have the necessarily skills and competencies of a doctor to be able to help support other clinical staff for the months before they formally start. This role is optional though many final year medical students have applied for the role and taken it up. Medical students who have taken up this role will of course be fully supported by senior clinical members of staff but will also be able to help to relieve some of the pressures in the NHS during this current time.
You can read more about Masumah’s experience of studying Medicine at Manchester on her blog: Life of a Medic
To read more from our students about how the coronavirus pandemic has affected their studies click here