The Medical Schools Council has released information about plans for medical students to return to clinical placements.
Spending time on the wards in clinical placements was the highlight of my medical school career. After years of attending lectures, I was able to fall back in love with medicine by doing what I enjoy most - Looking after patients.
Clinical placements are important, as this is where the knowledge you have gained can be put into practice. You learn from your colleagues, your patients, and your experiences, all of which shape the kind of doctor you will become. You gain an understanding and appreciation for the multidisciplinary team, as well as developing communication and clinical reasoning skills. You learn the reality of the job, and it prepares you for the junior doctor role.
With that said, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of education and training. Clinical rotations have already been cancelled or postponed, at risk staff are currently in non-patient-facing roles (if not working from home), high numbers of healthcare workers have tested positive for the virus, and sadly, some of our colleagues have lost their lives.
Guidance released in May, sheds some light on what medical schools and medical students can expect in the coming months.
Important points to highlight from the new guidance:
1) Your safety during clinical placements is of the upmost importance
Your medical schools will be preparing risk assessments to help ensure a safe return to clinical placement. Assignment to High-Risk Covid-19 areas will be avoided, as will exposure to aerosol generating procedures. Placement providers will provide PPE if required.
2) Clinical placements could recommence in September 2020
Although it is anticipated that some medical schools will open back up to students as early as July 2020.
3) If you think you fall into an at-risk category – update your medical school
This includes personal health conditions and vulnerable dependents, but also let them know if you have increased caring responsibilities or other circumstances which need to be considered. There will be options for you, including the possibility of deferring a year. This is not an option to be feared and does not equate to failure – as someone who deferred a year for personal reasons, I agree, it is scary, but if used as a means to preserve your health and wellbeing, it is worth considering.
4) Final year medical students will be the first to return to clinical placements
The most likely outcome will be a phased or gradual return of students, with final years taking priority.
5) You must still work towards clinical and GMC requirements
To progress with your medical school programme, you must attend clinical placements when they safely recommence.
6) Some placements will be different to what you expected
Different specialities have experienced a variety of pressures due to the pandemic. What this means for medical students, is that the capacity to support learning in clinical placements may be limited. Placements may need to be supplemented with a greater use of simulation. Also, because of the new healthcare landscape, some services have been limited or replaced with virtual clinics. Placements could incorporate shadowing these new services in preparation to work in these virtual settings. It is anticipated that post-pandemic, we will continue to utilise these methods.
7) You will still be assessed
Assessment of clinical skills is important as it gives you an opportunity for feedback, refection, and evidences your competencies. It is not yet known how you will be assessed, but this will be decided by individual medical schools.
8) Learning may be supplemented with online resources/online teaching
It is likely that social distancing measures will be recommended for quite some time, face to face teaching may be substituted by online technologies/virtual classrooms.
9) Electives and Student Selected Components may be repurposed
The time normally dedicated to electives or student selected components could be used to help cover parts of the curriculum that have been disrupted due to the pandemic. There is also the possibility of changes to the academic calendar to accommodate for clinical placements.
10) You will be able to access testing if you develop symptoms of coronavirus, like any other healthcare worker.
At your local induction, policies regarding testing and self-isolating should be explained to you.
It’s okay to feel anxious about returning to clinical placements... But the striking thing about this new guidance is the emphasis on your safety. Medical schools have a duty of care, so please communicate with them, voice your concerns, and maybe get involved in planning via your staff-student committee. No-one knows when things will be back to normal, but you can use this time to learn and develop as a doctor, knowing you have the full support of your medical school and placement providers.
(No conflict of interest, not sponsored, any information given here should not replace the advice of your medical school)