Student doctors join the fight against COVID-19

More than 200 Edinburgh medical graduates have answered the call to fight COVID-19 and left their degree courses early to work in hospitals all over the country. The new doctors have begun their careers at a time when the disease has killed more than 100 medical and support staff nationwide.

So, who are the people of Edinburgh that have joined the ranks of the nation’s NHS heroes and why have they chosen to jump-start their careers at such a dangerous time?

Hannah, who came back from an Australian placement summed it up by saying: “It was a question of doing something or nothing.” Although she wasn’t due to start until August and was nervous about going, like others she felt like she couldn’t hang around while the emergency continued. “I thought it was going to be more stressful than it was. Hospital was actually really calm. Everyone was so nice and had a strong team spirit.”

It was that team spirit which inspired Tom, 25. “It seemed like everyone in the NHS banded together”. Just like Hannah, he couldn’t just stand aside for six months. “The NHS needed doctors, it made sense for me to go. Otherwise, I would just be sat around twiddling my thumbs until August.” A newly qualified doctor Theresa, 25, said that despite the frightening stories she had heard, she felt like she needed to join in. “I wanted to use the skills we have learned and try to apply them. It would feel much better than just sitting at home.”

The work of these daring and well-schooled greenhorns is intense, but they are not expected to swim in veteran depths. The crisis is bringing covid patients in, but people still need help with other problems. Hannah’s work at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, is likely to bring her into contact with the disease. “I’m attached to the renal team as in the kidneys team. It covers three different wards: covid neg, covid pos; high dependency, meaning sicker patients”.

Theresa is working at the same hospital on a respiratory ward and is even more likely to face covid directly, because breathing difficulties is what covid is all about. “It could be corona or not corona. I’ll just be doing normal junior doctor duties: taking notes, taking bloods, ordering investigations.”

Tom is at Western General Hospital in Edinburgh and will initially work in general surgery because the hospital’s business of treating other illnesses must go on.  “I probably won’t have to deal with coronavirus, but there could be some overlap in patients. For the most part, I’m looking after patients in pre and post-surgery.”

While all three of them show determination to get on with ‘business as usual’, they all admit there was anxiety; even fear at first. For Tom, the apprehension was as much about starting a new job as it was about the dangers of covid. “I was definitely very nervous, which is kind of natural when you go from a student who doesn’t have much responsibility to a job where you actually do have responsibility.”

However, their minds have been put to rest by their induction training. Theresa said, “We had workshops on how to take the PPE on and off and I think that’s really reassuring.” It worked for Hannah too, who said “I’m a lot less nervous now… I thought it was going to be a lot more stressful and frightening than it ended up being.”

Reassurance has also come from the close family feeling and sense of unity that they all say they found when they went into their hospitals. Tom spoke for all of them, “Everyone is kind of hyper aware of burnout and I think that’s pretty universal across the NHS.”

The origins of the three doctors are varied. Theresa moved to England from Hamburg aged 10. Hannah hails from Perth, the gateway to the Highlands, and Tom from green and pleasant Buckinghamshire.

But they are all Edinburgh folk now. Hannah lives with her boyfriend, Jamie, who moved in as quarantine descended. He is a doctor too as is her sister who is helping to show her the ropes. “It’s definitely nice coming home to people who know what you’re doing”, she said.

Theresa also lives with her boyfriend who is a mechanical engineer. He balances her stress by keeping cool and helpfully reminding her “don’t catch corona”. Tom lives with his girlfriend, a PhD student now studying under lockdown, who sees the risks of his work but “understands why it’s necessary”.

They all say their parents were naturally worried but also supportive when they made their decisions. With Tom’s family, there was “an aspect of being proud and happy that I wanted to go and contribute” but at the same time “a lot of trepidation from mum.” But he eventually “talked them around to it and they realized it’s an important thing to do.”

 

Image (left to right): Theresa Peltz, Tom Erlandsen, and Hannah Douglas via Jude Holden

 

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The Student Newspaper 2016