The history of civilisation has taught us that even in the worst of situations, there can be silver linings. Even if small, something good can come from difficult times. Don’t get me wrong, COVID-19 has wreaked absolute havoc and devastation across the globe. I am not trying to downplay or minimise anyone’s suffering or the widespread effects of COVID-19. The health and economic impacts are enormous. With the current number of total cases globally approaching 30 million with nearly 1 million deaths, it is likely things will continue to get worse, before they get better. More lives will be lost, and it will be a long time until we are living in a post-COVID era. While we are in the midst of what will be one of the largest pandemics to go down in history, it can be hard to recognise these silver linings. It is easy to be focus on the negatives of COVID-19 and 2020.
It has been an extremely difficult and trying year for all of us, some more than others. My heart goes out to anyone who has lost a loved one to coronavirus and also to the people who are struggling right now. As a final year student, I have been privileged to be able to attend placement for the majority of the year, even though my rotations have altered from what was originally planned. Even when I left my family home for a month during my ED rotation to live in an Airbnb near the hospital, I still felt lucky to get out of the house and have some sort of routine. I really empathise for all the junior medical students who have missed out on many months of clinical placement and have had to adapt quickly to learning via zoom. I am feeling Zoom fatigue, so I cannot imagine how it must be for students studying full time from home. Below are my reflections on some silver linings to come out the unprecedented year that 2020 has been.
I am the kind of person who prefers to be busy. I have my daily “to do” list and only feel accomplished if I have ticked everything off by the end of the day. I am sure many other medical students can reasonate with this sentiment, I think it comes with being a perfectionist. In pre-COVID times, my weekends consisted of balancing two casual retail jobs, catching up with friends, study, exercise and spending time with family. Then on the weekdays, I would attend placement during the day and almost every night I would have something on, whether it be a social or uni event or study to do. Those days feel like so long ago now, where I remember rushing around to fit as much as I possibly could into a day. The strict lockdowns and restrictions on what we can and cannot do due to COVID-19 has allowed me to slow down. Previously I would stress out if I wasn’t doing things I deemed to be “productive” or a good use of my time, but now I really enjoy a Sunday morning sleep in, time spent watching Netflix on a Saturday night or just chilling out doing nothing. It is sad to think that it had to take a pandemic to change by mindset, but I am glad that it has changed. I have given myself the okay to chill out and enjoy the simple things. I really hope these chill vibes will stick with me long term.
Being on placement, I have seen the impact that COVID-19 has had on healthcare workers, from nurses and allied health staff to doctors and administration staff. We are somewhat protected as medical students not being frontline workers. It is well known that there are ingrained cultural issues in medicine that have slowly been improving over the years. Another silver lining to come out of COVID-19, is the ending of presenteeism in medicine, as in – not showing up to work when you are sick. Previously, there was a culture of always showing up no matter what, to push through that sniffle or cough. But now, showing up to work unwell is very much unacceptable and looked down upon. Let’s hope that COVID-19 is the end to presenteeism for good. This will have two-fold benefits, including preventing the spread of an infectious disease to vulnerable patients and other healthcare workers, as well as focusing on the well-being of the healthcare worker, to ensure that they rest when sick and take the time off work they require.
While Victoria has been hit hard and we have been in one of the toughest lockdowns in the world, things are starting to look more positive with case numbers going down on a daily basis. If you’re reading this, please make sure you take some time to do something good for yourself this week. It may be a nice walk along the beach or a virtual catch up with a friend; enjoy the little things. Look after yourselves during this time and think about your silver linings and learnings from 2020. Focus on these, and hopefully that will help to brighten your day. We can and we will, get through this together.
If you’re struggling please reach out to a friend or family member, a university service (see more information listed below) or a mental health service such as Beyond Blue (1300 224 636) or Lifeline on (13 11 14). Sending everyone lots of love, stay safe and stay well.
Dr Philippa Corby (Student Support): e: email@example.com
Dr Matthew Thong (International Student Welfare): e: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jodie Vickers (Student Services and Support): e: Jodie.email@example.com
24 hour counselling support services (free, confidential)
In Australia: 1300 STUDENT (1300 788 336)
Overseas: +61 2 8295 2917
For university health services: https://www.monash.edu/health/mental-health/resources/emergency-after-hours-contacts
Support from those who have experience dealing with medical students and doctors specifically: https://www.drs4drs.com.au/