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Universities across the UK have fast-tracked sixth-year medical students to graduate two months early, following the government’s call for additional medical staff during the COVID-19 pandemic.

After graduating on the 8th April, Cambridge’s 265 recent medicine graduates have been able to seek early registration with the General Medical Council [GMC] and will soon enter the NHS workforce.

Around 5,500 medical students across the UK have graduated now, rather than in June, to boost the numbers of NHS frontline staff.

Varsity has spoken to three of Cambridge’s 265 new doctors, who wish to remain anonymous, about their experiences over the last month and their feelings about beginning their medical careers.

The doctors emphasised that they are “humbled” that they can contribute to the NHS workforce during the pandemic.

“Having no doctor is infinitely worse than a fresh doctor with some experience and knowledge”

One of the doctors feels that the urgency of the situation has affirmed his role. He said that “you never can be fully prepared to start work as a doctor, it will always come as a bit of a shock that first day, a bit of imposter syndrome.”

Yet he continued to explain that the feelings which result from imposter syndrome now seem irrelevant, stating: “the epidemic, staff under pressure working 12-hour shifts and doctors having to self-isolate has shifted my mindset, the balance has altered. Having no doctor is infinitely worse than a fresh doctor with some experience and knowledge. If we can do anything at all to relieve that pressure, allow redeployment of more experienced junior doctors to more specialised care that only has to be a good thing.”

Another explained that despite difficulties, the current moment is “really exciting because the thing that has drawn me to medicine is being able to help. By me being in the hospital, it frees up senior staff to attend COVID patients.”

The new doctors explain that the last month has been a chaotic mix of uncertain messages about their new status.

Early on in the pandemic, Cambridge’s Clinical school “seemed untouched by it”, explains one student. At this time, she felt that there “was no clear guidance, so [I] just went with good hand hygiene and lots of alcohol gel at the time as was generally advised.”

She continued to add that it was only when “practice exams were cancelled in order to protect the patients who volunteered” that it became evident that senior doctors were concerned about the trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The clearest indication that the situation was predicted to become more severe came in mid March, when final exams were cancelled for sixth-year medical students. This meant no further practical clinical examination. Initially, clinical experience continued for final year students but was stopped for fourth and fifth-year students.

Soon, the Clinical School also cancelled clinical exposure for final year students, at which point many travelled home.

“There was a big delay between those headlines and it becoming a reality to us.”

The new doctors explained that, whilst the University were “as forthcoming as they could be” about the fast-track process, “more news was breaking from the Foundation Programme office and the GMC.”

Students felt that there was a lack of clarity, and resorted to a Facebook group created by ‘ClinSoc’, Cambridge’s clinical student society, which distributed guidance from the Clinical School.

One of the new doctors explained that “it was as early as the 5th March that the government announced that final year medics might be included in the medical response”.

This was somewhat confirmed to students when announced by Matt Hancock during a daily press briefing on 24th March.

The new doctors received formal confirmation that they would be fast-tracked over a month later, on 6th April.

One of the new doctors added: “there was a big delay between those headlines and it becoming a reality to us.”

Ordinarily, sixth-year medical students would have several months of clinical electives and work placements after their final year exams, which would allow them to begin as Foundation Interim Year 1 [FiY1] doctors with the NHS in August.

It was initially reported that the GMC would follow normal procedures and not complete the registration of new doctors until August. This would have meant that the new doctors would not be able to perform clinical duties until their registration was completed.

However, the GMC has now begun to fast-track applications, with Cambridge graduates reporting that their applications have taken less than one day to be processed. All new registrations are provisional, with full registration only complete after a doctor has worked for one year.

This means that new doctors will be able to take on some clinical tasks.

New doctors will be placed on wards which provide routine care. Tasks will include prescribing basic medications and carrying out basic medical procedures, such as taking blood samples and inserting cannulas.

Yet one new doctor suggested that they “probably will be working with coronavirus patients, but this hasn’t been explicitly stated.”

However, it is usual practice that FiY1 doctors are not responsible for seriously ill patients.

The new graduates have two options: either take an FiY1 post at an organisation near their medical school or begin early at the institution where they were due to begin their formal FiY1 training in August.


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A third new doctor cited the decision to allow almost 250,000 people to gather at Cheltenham Racecourse for a four-day festival in March, in contrast to how it now “seems blindingly obvious why our final year in Cambridge had to end this way” as the NHS, and broader society, adapt to “the new normal”.

When asked about the level of support and supervision they will receive, the new doctors explained that Deaneries — the NHS organisations which are responsible for medical training — are quickly adapting to ensure that new doctors are supported.

New doctors are guaranteed an induction and will be working in a team with one or two foundation doctors, who have themselves been working for at least eight months.

Another new doctor commented: “I think supervision will be better because there is an awareness that we are starting early”. She has been told that she will only be working between the hours of 7 am and 9 pm, to ensure that there is enough senior staff present to support the new doctors.

New doctors will also be “buddied” with another junior doctor to assist with settling into their new workplaces.

“There is an overwhelming sense of goodwill from doctors and medical educators on twitter”, explained one of the new doctors. He added that “everyone is having to retrain and adapt” to current circumstances.

Unsurprisingly, the recent graduates raised concern about the availability of personal protective equipment [PPE] for medical staff. One doctor is “hoping that essential items such as surgical masks and visors will be available” and that “more evidence will be available on the safety of working with potential COVID-19 patients and the use of surgical masks, visors and plastic aprons.”

Another doctor considered purchasing scrubs but decided against doing so. She added that she is more concerned about infecting vulnerable patients than becoming ill herself.

She added that “there is a resigned acceptance among some in the medical community that we will inevitably get COVID-19”.

The new doctors are currently awaiting confirmation on which NHS hospital they will be placed.