Is it over yet?

Mainga Bhima is a second year medical student at the University of Bristol. She talks about how the Covid-19 pandemic has been difficult but how it has also created healing and humanity.

Beginning my second year of medical school from my parents’ front room in October, I felt a mixture of emotions. On one hand - relief that the academic year was starting, and I would have more structure to my days. On the other - a creeping, low-level but ever present, anxiety. All the talk was of second peaks and uncertainty was rising as we entered the colder months. Dispersed around the globe, my course mates dutifully typed their questions into the chat boxes of our online lectures, but the biggest question ‘When will this be over?’ remained unanswerable. 

As the year ends and the vaccination programme begins, many other questions have risen: for how long will the vaccinated remain immune? How do we ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine globally? How do we begin to tackle the backlog of care that has built up over the last nine months? How do we make real inroads to eradicate the disparities thrown into sharp relief by Covid-19, a virus that has proved to not in fact be the great leveller, but the great discloser?

Of course, none of these have ready answers, though they will all directly impact the medical education of current and future medical students for the foreseeable future (and undoubtedly beyond). And it is with an eye to the future that I am ending 2020 with a reflection on some of the things I have learned about medicine through the activity of studying for a medical degree through a global pandemic. 

People are adaptable and creative

Well, obviously. But even when it felt like we were being squeezed to the point of squeaking pips, people still found the energy and generosity to arrange peer-led educational events, put on group exercise classes, arrange social events, and to just generally try to help their fellow students keep going. 

Learning online can be a drag - and a boost 

It cannot be denied – we medical students have missed each other this year. Whichever way you spin it, staring at screens in an attempt to figure out practical skills that require physical contact is not ideal. My thoughts are with first-year medical students who have not yet even been in the same room as all their course mates. But medical educators have worked hard to get good at using the technology to make engaging sessions that we have hugely appreciated. And an observation: at the online lectures I have attended, students seem to ask way more questions in the chat box than they would have in an in-person lecture. We have probably contributed more and had more dynamic discussions in the chat box than we ever did in the organised debates last year.

We have the potential to widen access to medical education

We have access to so much technology now, and while it is not perfect, the pandemic has shown how it can be creatively deployed to deliver medical education remotely around the world. Medical schools are no longer bound by the walls of ivory towers, and instead now exist in bedrooms, front rooms and kitchens the world over. As a nation, we have learned more about virology, immunology and how our health system works than ever before, and the medical profession has learned the importance of making medical education mainstream.

I would like to end this post with a note of thanks to everybody who is living and working through this crisis. The challenges will continue to develop, while the things we have learned have changed us all forever. There has been a lot of difficult times, but there has also been healing and humanity.