Life of a Medical Student During a Pandemic


The final instalment to this series is by Emma Mackender, a current 5th year medical student, sharing her views of intercalation during the pandemic.

It’s such a bizarre realisation that a global pandemic is what it takes to stop medical education. I couldn’t quite believe I wouldn’t be sitting my exams, it almost felt wrong, like I was cheating my way through medical school! 

By Emma Mackender, 5th Year Medical Student, Instagram: @medical.dilemma

In 2020 I was in my 4th year at medical school and in March it ended abruptly. It’s such a bizarre realisation that a global pandemic is what it takes to stop medical education. I couldn’t quite believe I wouldn’t be sitting my exams, it almost felt wrong, like I was cheating my way through medical school! 

Following a nearly 7-month hiatus from studying, I started my masters course at the end of 2020. I decided to intercalate before the pandemic existed but very nearly changed my mind because of it! Retrospectively, I’m so glad I intercalated, it was the best decision I could have made, the year I was about to have would change my life. At the time though, it felt like a mistake. My course starting later than usual, combined with the stress associated with the pandemic meant it was harder than usual to get back into the routine of studying. Plus, most of my friends were in final year and I was feeling a bit lost. 

I studied Healthcare Ethics and Law and really struggled at the start. Essay writing was not my strength and I found it difficult to learn the course content entirely online without any face-to-face teaching. A few of our sessions were removed entirely, meaning a few zoom contact hours a week was all we got. I realised how lucky I was to be a medical student, all of our teaching is face-to-face (probably too much if anything!) and medicine being such a practical course made learning far easier (for me anyway). 

I started to get into my stride a little bit more after Christmas and was starting to get my confidence back. Then disaster struck, I fell ill with appendicitis in March 2021 and unfortunately developed sepsis the week after my surgery. I was seriously ill in hospital for around 2 weeks, then unwell at home for over 2 months. I couldn’t believe how weak I was, and trying to get back to normal was slow. It was quite a low period. My tutors then advised me to stop my degree as it was unlikely I would be able to finish it in time. 

I think this was my turning point. I didn’t want to ditch my degree and I didn’t want illness to stop me from achieving! I had 4 x4000 word essays to write, so I pushed through (somehow) and threw together the essays. I actually think this benefitted me because it stopped me going into too much unnecessary detail! The extensions ate into my dissertation writing time, but this didn’t impact me too much and after a short break I started writing. I absolutely loved my topic and was definitely the most enjoyable part of the course. It was the most interesting 6 weeks!

Overall, I think my year was very different to most! Illness and the pandemic really changed things for me and my intercalation. However, I would still recommend intercalating and would definitely recommend Healthcare Ethics and Law at Manchester. The tutors are great and very responsive, the course is also really interesting. I think if the pandemic hadn’t have happened, I would have found the course easier and would have enjoyed it more. 

Hopefully this pandemic will have less of an effect on higher education going forward.