Pandemic Response: How COVID-19 Will Affect Your First Year of Residency

Pandemic Response: How COVID-19 Will Affect Your First Year of Residency

Jul 02, 2020 Published by Kathrin O'Neill

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The outburst of a global pandemic, COVID-19, made things uncertain for the medical field. Current resident physicians find themselves in a unique position where it’s both a privilege and a burden to become part of the health force. To become a respondent for COVID-19 is a learning opportunity that they get to experience firsthand but facing a deadly respiratory illness about which much remains unknown makes the job harder than it already is.

Not to mention that the work of a resident doesn’t stop because of the pandemic. They’re developing their own skills as medical workers but doing so in the current health care environment means adjusting to the new normal surrounded by uncertainty.

While the rest of the world is on lockdown, the medical field is still rolling, and it is crucial to stay that way. If you’re an incoming first-year medical resident, to finally join the medical workforce as a doctor in the middle of a pandemic, is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

The residency is harsh to begin with, but with COVID-19 in the picture. You must know exactly what you should prepare yourself for. The American Medical Association has released a physician’s guide to COVID-19 curated from CDC, WHO, and JAMA to help you prepare for your practice. But, with all these preparations, how exactly will COVID-19 affect your first year of residency?

Lesser Medical Staffs Present

Depending on your hospital’s location and the severity of the outbreak, there are two main scenarios for medical staffing. First is your hospital ordering a 50% working capacity. Medical health workers and staff are reduced to 50% working capacity to lessen the probability of hospital transmission.

Many hospitals and clinics apply this contingency plan. This way, if there’s a virus transmission within the employees, the reserved half who are working from home can take over without the whole hospital being crippled.

The second scenario is the hospital needs to work at full capacity because of the outpour of COVID and non-COVID patients which leads to a shortage of workforce.

Whatever scenario it may be, as a result, you’ll have to pick up what may not be necessarily part of your job. Responsibilities are higher, both to your patients and to yourself when it comes to your medical education.

Even More Exhausting Shifts

Shifting hours of residents are regulated but the amount of work that you’re doing within those hours isn’t. With the hospital capacity reduced and the ratio of patients to staff is increased, the rigors of residency shift have definitely grown for some.

It’s not about the physical exhaustion too. With additional stringent rules and protocols that you have to follow, it can take a toll on anyone. There’s so much uncertainly going around that it is mentally exhausting up to the point that the mental health of everyone in the hospital is now more closely monitored.

Almost everyone has to wear personal protective equipment (PPE) all the time. It’s physically uncomfortable up to the point of being painful. But the worry that comes with it is even more alarming. Even if you might see fewer patients with consultations moving online, these shifts are more emotionally and physically tiring than they were in pre-COVID-19 times.

Change and Uncertainty in Residency Education

Part of your residency education is your conference sessions and weekly lectures. Seeing that it’s your first year in residency, these are incredibly important so your theoretical knowledge can match up with your practical skills and vice versa.

However, much of your residency education will be moved online except for your hospital duties. While hospitals and program directors do as much as they could to not compromise the education you’re getting, the demands of the current pandemic make it harder for everyone. Your seniors would have to prep cases and do research for presentations on top of their hospital duties as a doctor.

More so, the amount of time that everyone, including you, would spend on a Zoom conference could count towards resting or actual hospital work. Each administration is doing what they can but in this current setting, it’s a luxury that not all hospitals have.

Your first year at residency is also the time for you to explore different fields of medicine through the elective rotations. However, these kinds of educational activities are up in the air. Other departments are forced to have remote works online to prevent unnecessary trips to the hospitals while certain departments would need all hands on deck. Choosing which department to go to at this stage is a luxury that the majority of health workers don’t have.

In- and Out-Hospital Support

Despite the uncertainty of the medical field when it comes to education, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education advised programs that “any resident or fellow who provides care to patients will do so under the appropriate supervision for the clinical circumstance and the level of education of the resident or fellow. Faculty members are expected to have been trained in the treatment and infection control protocols and procedures adopted by their local health care setting”.

This means, in practice, it’s highly unlikely for first-year residents to attend to a patient that’s coronavirus-positive. Usually, your attendings would have to see them because bringing in a resident would mean a higher risk of transmission due to exposure and with the resources being limited such as PPEs, it’s much more efficient for your seniors to be directly working with their patients.

Mentor-mentee support and peer support are important during these trying times. Not only when it comes to such scenarios, but it’s crucial that you find encouragement and support (either physical or emotional) within your peers and the medical community. A lot of medical workers find themselves physically distancing with their family and friends outside of the hospital for safety precautions which is why it’s incredibly important that you find solace within your coworkers.

Nevertheless, consider your first year of residency being a COVID-19 responder as part of your crucial medical training. Not only it will equip you with the skills and experience of a higher level, but it will also test your willingness to treat and participate in such a noble career.