Junior doctors thrown into 'deep end'



Senior doctors are learning as they go, after all, the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. But at least they have years of frontline experience to fall back on. The same can’t be said for our junior medical officers (JMOs), who are fresh out of medical school and still acclimatising to the hospital environment.

Peninsula Living spoke with Dr Amna Saadi, an intern JMO working out of Northern Beaches Hospital, about how she’s dealt with the threat of COVID and its impact. Incredibly, she’d only started her internship a tick over one month before the coronavirus outbreak, so it has certainly been a baptism of fire for the Hornsby local.

“It all happened very quickly… We were all very nervous at the beginning, because we were looking at what was taking place in other countries around the world and thinking that could happen here,” Dr Saadi says.

“There was definitely some concern, because we would be the ones spending time with the infected patients and seeing them get very sick. We probably didn’t feel ready for that as fresh med student interns.”

Whatever trepidation Dr Saadi felt, she managed to overcome it, spending time in both the COVID ward and a quarantined section of Emergency for infected patients.

“On my last rotation in Emergency, we spent a bit of time in there, doing a lot of donning and doffing of PPE (personal protective equipment) and seeing patients through four masks, which is kind of insane!” Dr Saadi reveals.

“But I think it was a good experience too, because you got to see a little bit of what it was like at the very front.”

As a component of the JMOs’ training, they were introduced to ‘pandemic medicine’, something they “wouldn’t ordinarily have been exposed to” had it not been for COVID, explains Dr Ben Taylor, Director of Prevocational Education and Training (DPET) at Northern Beaches Hospital.

When asked about the pandemic medicine specialty, Dr Saadi recalls PPE best practices; CPR training; learning different protocols for COVID-suspected and COVID-positive patients; conducting simulations; and generally keeping abreast of the constant stream of updated information coming her way.

And while she laments that so much of her training has had to be done virtually because of social distancing, she believes being “thrown into the deep end” could be the making of her and her peers as doctors.

“I think in ways we've missed out on some of the things that we would have had if we hadn't had the pandemic,” she considers. 

“I think a lot of the teaching, for example, has had to go online, through Zoom. But it's so much better when you're in person and able to talk to your teacher and ask them questions.
It’s very hard to facilitate that over Zoom, so I wish that I'd been able to keep attending things in person.

“But definitely, we've had to learn how to deal with stress and pressure, and just adapt, which I think is always useful. So, in that sense, yeah, maybe I'm more adaptable now, I’ve had to learn that by being thrown into the deep end.”

Interestingly, Dr Taylor reveals Northern Beaches Hospital was “ahead of the game” when it comes to video conferencing.

“From a training perspective, we've had to come up with novel ways of thinking about how to maintain training, because there's all the training around the COVID related stuff but obviously our junior doctors still need to be trained in all the other aspects of patient care that they always did,” he tells Peninsula Living.

“So, we're trying to minimise the amount of face-to-face training. We've been using a lot of new technologies like video conferencing. So, the hospital quite early on, even actually prior to COVID coming along, had already started that. 

“We were ahead of the game in that respect, as we’d already bought a number of corporate Zoom licenses and been trialling video conferencing for meetings.

“It’s very interactive for the junior doctors, with microphones at every site, plus we record sessions to the Cloud, so they can always watch and review them later… It’s a huge advantage because we’ve never recorded them before.

“The downside, obviously, is that there’s less social interaction between some of the junior doctors across the sites, but I think that's a reasonable price to pay to keep everyone safe and to maintain the training.”

He notes staff safety has be prioritised, which is why Zoom continues to play a major role in the training, and physical sessions strictly abide by social distancing measures and PPE requirements.

“The feedback from the junior doctors is that they feel safe to work there, and I think the levels of stress, certainly in the last month or so, have really come down too, which is great! It’s a reflection of the fact they feel there's enough PPE and they've had adequate training,” Dr Taylor says.

Joe McDonough, Editor-in-Chief, Peninsula Living Magazine

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