[OPINION] Clinical clerkship: Being next in line in the pandemic
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I was swamped with books, case discussions, reports and examinations. We were only a week away from our quarterly examinations. There were only 3 more months until our final year in medical school.
On March 9, right after our first exam, it was announced that classes would be suspended for a week since the coronavirus cases were on the rise. That meant more time to study for the upcoming exams, more time to rest in between.
But then that March 9-15 suspension extended into a month-long suspension, the enhanced community quarantine, and the uncertainty of when we would go back to school. As a medical student, the “why’s” of choosing this career path always comes at random times. It’s always the usual, “Bakit ba ako nag-med? Sana nagtrabaho nalang ako!” (Why did I take up medicine? I should have just worked instead!).
These questions creep up in between exams, numerous textbooks, and reports, but I always return to my motivation, “To learn more about my patients, treat them, and do my best to restore them back to normal health.” This has always been my script whenever people ask me why I decided to become a doctor.
As an incoming clinical clerk (4th year is when we’re on hospital duty after our classroom education the first 3 years of medical school), I would have been excited and anxious. There was no better way to practice what I’ve learned in the classroom than by meeting patients and doing the rounds. It was my first step towards officially handling patients.
In the context of this pandemic, my friends and I talked about the possibility of being next in line. Initially, it was a hypothetical question that we even joked about. We felt we weren’t ready for the hospital, more so in the current conditions and with the risk of contracting the virus. We believed that it was close to impossible. But given the course of the pandemic, the situation of the healthcare system, and the frontliners, the question of being next in line turned into a thoughtful reminder: isn’t this what you signed up for in the first place? (READ: In their own words: Frontliners on their fears, hopes during the pandemic)
Entering medical school was already my “yes” to the unknown realm of diseases and cures. Had I known this pandemic would occur, would I still have pursued the 4 grueling years of medical school, only to be put on the front lines? Yes. These types of questions have only reminded me that in medicine, it is even possible to put your own life on the line just to save another life. While this statement seems harrowing, especially with the unknown virus everywhere, it is the hard truth I need to face in the career path I chose. But would I change my career path? No.
As an incoming clinical clerk without prior hospital experience and only equipped with theoretical knowledge, there is fear that I still lack the knowledge to practice in the hospital. But then again, with this novel coronavirus, it gives me comfort to know that everyone in the health profession, from us mere students to our most senior consultants and the whole medical team in between, are just trying to battle the unknown virus with what we already know. It is a continuous learning process. Each COVID-positive patient adds new information on ways to manage the disease. (READ: 9 rooms and a hallway)
These thoughts continue to come and go throughout my time in quarantine. At present, clerkship in the hospital remains uncertain. In the meantime, while compromises are being done in hospitals, adjustments online are in place as well. In the past few weeks, it was a struggle to study. I was still adjusting to lectures online, waking up to notifications for new reports and online examinations. Since I can’t physically share memories with my classmates for the time being, our struggle with sitting in front of a computer screen is all we have. The challenge of staying awake during lectures and cramming for examinations has shifted online, with glitches here and there (dogs or chickens in the background), an apology because one’s microphone was on mute, etc. This pandemic has brought medical school to my home, but with more time to think of the pressing questions and a deeper evaluation of the career path I chose.
The road to being a medical doctor is still a long one, with more years to come, but with this pandemic it seems closer than ever. In the meantime, I continue to hope that I see my classmates and professors again, and to hope for my future patients – as an incoming clinical clerk stuck at home behind her laptop screen. – Rappler.com
Gabriela Veronica C. Tuazon is an incoming 4th year medical student (clinical clerk) at the University of Sto. Tomas – Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.