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25th March 2021
Arni Sarian is a fourth-year MBBS student at the University of Central Lancashire in North West England. Originally from Armenia, Arni tells us about how hospital placements have changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

When my School of Medicine announced that placements would resume as usual in Year 4, I was very anxious about all the changes I was expecting to see. I was certain that placements would never be the same again and I would need time to adapt to the changes on hospital grounds. Much to my surprise, placements feel exactly the same, just with minor alterations to ensure patient and staff safety.

The Commute To Hospital

As usual, my day starts very early – usually, around 6 am – when I rush to the train station to catch a train to Blackburn. The first immediate difference I notice is in transport: due to the pandemic, trains are working at a reduced schedule, so if you miss your train or it gets cancelled, you need to wait for at least another hour to get the next train.

COVID-19 Precautions

Before you walk into the hospital you need to show your ID, because most wards allow only staff and patients to come in. You’re asked to put on a fresh surgical mask at the entrance and to wash your hands thoroughly.

Throughout the day you need to ensure to keep your mask on. Whenever in contact with any patient, irrespective of their COVID status, staff are required to put on a full personal protective equipment (PPE) set – gloves, apron, surgical mask and a face shield.

Students are allowed to visit COVID wards and to care for COVID patients, as this provides a very good learning experience. Senior Doctors and infection control nurses are always there to make sure you have put on your PPE appropriately. The rest of the ward work is pretty much the same, except the first differential diagnosis to cross your mind is always COVID.

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Lunch Breaks Alone

After a busy morning on the ward, we take a quick lunch break. This is the only time we are allowed to take our masks off, which is a big relief after wearing one for five hours.

Students and staff are no longer permitted to share a table together; we have to sit on individual tables, which are distanced from each other by at least two metres. Unfortunately, we struggle to socialise with our friends and colleagues, which is probably what I miss the most now.

Outpatient Appointments Are Very Different

Hospital outpatients appointments are the only aspect of placements that have been altered heavily.

Most clinics now happen over the phone. The consultants ring a patient and have a full consultation. If they feel the need to see a patient personally, they make sure that the patient does not have COVID symptoms and invite them in for an appointment.

Although I understand the importance of doing consultations online and minimising the number of patients coming into the hospital, sometimes I really struggle to stay focused for three to four hours, listening to phone consultations. I can’t wait until we are able to practise our examination skills again!

Travelling Home

After a long day, we all rush to the train station to catch one of the few trains going to Preston. In the evenings I usually do some light reading and touch on the cases that I have seen in hospital. However, it’s important to relax and reward myself after a long day of hard work, so after some revision, I usually watch TV or do some exercise with my friends.

Being part of the NHS is an extreme privilege for me! I am very proud to be a member of such a hard-working, committed and devoted team. Moreover, I feel very proud to have made a small contribution to fighting this global pandemic.

For further information about studying Medicine at the University of Central Lancashire, visit the MBBS web page or email: international@uclan.ac.uk.

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