Life of a Medical Student During a Pandemic

Our blog ‘Surgical TALK’ is back!!! To start is a mini series of posts from our committee members about life as medical students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kicking us off is John Tawn our 1st Year Scalpel Representative, discussing his experience of his first year at medical school.

Manchester was the only offer I received to study medicine, but also happened to be my first choice and I am so thankful to be studying here. In this post you’ll read about my thoughts and experiences of being a first-year medical student during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

By John Tawn, 1st Year Medical Student

My typical working week involves two PBL (problem-based learning) zoom calls, 3 or more online lectures, a consultation-skills zoom call, an anatomy zoom call, one face-to-face dissection session and sometimes a phys/pharm class (online or face-to-face). Having meetings with so many people over a zoom call is definitely not an easy task and something that I’m still trying to adapt to today. It can be hard to pick up on physical cues over zoom and so people can talk over each other at times. Although this is something that I’ve learnt to brush off, it never becomes less awkward! 

Each semester I’ve been introduced to a new group of people for PBL. I’ve therefore become accustomed to answering questions like “What’s your favourite TV show?” and “What’s your favourite thing to put on toast?”. Unfortunately, my conversations with some classmates haven’t proceeded much further than that as we’ve not really been able to meet up outside or during classes due to social distancing and the online format. However, I do have hope that this will change moving forward into semester 3.

There are many pros and cons that I’ve found with online lectures. On the plus side you have more control over your week because you can watch the lectures anywhere and at any time, and you can also pause the lecture when appropriate to take notes. Additionally, there is no annoying background noise that you can find on live recordings like students coughing all the time! However, I think that getting up early and going out to lectures is a social experience that I missed out on this year. 

Consultation skills meetings were generally with half of the people from your PBL group (about 5), an academic tutor and a simulated patient. During each call there were two scenarios for us to practice our communication. As there were only two scenarios each week, this meant that I was mostly giving other people feedback on their performances with the simulated patients as everyone needs to practice. I think that watching other people’s consultations was definitely useful, however, I do wish that there was more opportunity for me to practice with the simulated patients because they are so good at making the consultations feel as realistic as possible.

Whole body dissection was not facilitated during the pandemic and I have instead worked individually with pro-sections in weekly 30-minute slots. Even though this wasn’t what I imagined before coming to Manchester, I have found the pro-sections very useful to visualise internal structures. Also, there were always anatomy demonstrators on hand to answer any specific questions.

Overall, I think that my first year experience was very different from what I initially imagined, however, I’ve definitely learnt a lot and still managed to make some really good friends. I hope that reading this gave you some insight in what it was like being a first year during the pandemic.