A Baptism of Fire – Reflections of a Class of Corona Doctor
by Chris Grieco
I would like to share my account and some reflections of what it was like to start work during a pandemic, to have my studies cut short and elective cancelled.
Date: Friday 13th (I know…) March 2020
I’m not a particularly superstitious person, but it is a widely held superstition that Friday 13th is an unlucky day – when bad things just seem to happen. I had just two weeks left of medical school and I was looking forward to the last hoorah known as the medical elective, a chance to travel abroad to experience life working in a different country, the highlight of many doctors’ careers.
On Friday 13th, I received a fantastic gift, a Lonely Planet guidebook for East Africa – the destination of my long-awaited elective. I was ecstatic to receive this wonderful gift and couldn’t wait to explore Tanzania and also attend my first international conference in Madrid en route. Not a minute after opening this gift I received an email – University of Bristol Medical Electives CANCELLED. Coronavirus had arrived.
Date: Tuesday 24th March 2020
The next few weeks pass by, with all placements cancelled and a torrential flood of COVID-19 related emails hitting our inboxes. Despite reassurance that starting work early was highly unlikely because of the administrative nightmare it would bring, health secretary Matt Hancock duly announced that 5,500 new doctors would “move to the front line”.
The conference centre in Madrid I had hoped to visit had now opened as a field hospital for COVID-19 patients, all incoming flights to Tanzania were cancelled.
Date: Friday 3rd April 2020
All of a sudden I was becoming a doctor, approximately 5 months earlier than expected and the graduation ceremony was being held by zoom. (How 2020). We made the BBC 6 O’clock news with video snippets from the online ceremony broadcast to the nation – the media grasping at what little good news they could find.
Date: Monday 6th April 2020
PM Boris Johnson is admitted to ICU with COVID-19. Thankfully, he makes a full recovery.
Date: Thursday 7th May 2020
Now working as an interim FY1 (most junior) doctor, my first patient passed away suddenly from COVID-19 recently after an operation. This sad day brought home the reality of this devastating disease.
I am just one of the 5,500 class of coronavirus doctors. These diary entries illustrate just one story.
Looking back, I can now reflect on how difficult it felt to be thrust into work. There were certainly feelings of ill-preparedness and incompleteness. To tread a new path unlike any of our predecessors was daunting. There are times I feel aggrieved – resenting the missed elective. It was always the light at the end of the tunnel and a chance to travel after 6 consecutive years of studying. Bristol students had thankfully already passed their finals exams, but despite this there are still feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome. I can only imagine that this is worse for those doctors who did not get a chance to finish their exams, passing that final barrier which earns you the right to become a doctor.
On the other hand, we are novel and unique. Each of the 5,500-strong cohort have faced an unprecedented set of circumstances and have emerged with unparalleled determination and perseverance. We can always be proud of this. Stepping up at the time of greatest need, helping the sick and preventing the NHS from bursting at the seams.
The future remains uncertain and unpredictable. But despite this, I remain optimistic. I have witnessed a cohort of nervous medical students blossom into incredibly resilient and capable doctors determined to do their best to help their patients.
Chris Grieco graduated from the University of Bristol in 2020 and is now an FY1 Doctor in Taunton, Somerset. He is also a Medics.Academy fellow and likes spending his spare time exploring the great outdoors.