This is a very important contribution from Dr Koula Christou one of our newest doctors. When I was a student in the ‘70s, disease prevention hardly figured at all in the curriculum.  Nothing much has changed, but reading this, it is clear that the current pandemic is an opportunity to emphasise the primacy of prevention to keep the population healthy.  When the current crisis has passed, we will return to focusing on the crisis of preventable cancer, and it would be good to think that the new generation of doctors will put the same energy into this as they are with tackling COVID-19. –  Professor Bob Steele

During my first year of medical school, we had a “Flu Scenario”, where we had to define a pandemic, mechanisms of spread and the strategies on a public, national and international level to tackle this. It was a small group discussion, which I never thought I would live to experience, especially as I was about to graduate and start working.  Going into my medical degree I was mostly interested in treating people; however, during my studies I have come to realise the importance of disease prevention and grew a particular interest in cancer prevention, as I aim to pursue a career in oncology. In this very real scenario of the Covid-19 pandemic, prevention is yet again the key, to save lives and protect the NHS. 

When I received the e-mail that graduation is being brought forward, I was taken by surprise. I only had a few more weeks of placement but I still did not come to comprehend that everything was becoming very real very fast. It was understandable that studies have to be cut short, but at the same time I felt that I wanted to contribute and help. In the past couple of weeks during which I have been completing my placement, everything has changed. A lot of hospital wards have been emptied and a “hospital within a hospital” has been created for Covid-19 patients. There is a lot of planning in anticipation for a large wave of patients, as predicted by models and trajectories in other countries, “the calm before the storm”.  

The initial plan was to move to Leeds and start working as a Foundation Year doctor in August. However, in the past week it was announced that the General Medical Council has agreed to an pre-registration of final year medical students that are graduating. This allows us to voluntarily sign-up to start work earlier, either at our allocated location or at our current hospital area. I registered my interest and I am waiting for a response, hoping that I will be able to help and free the hands of senior doctors to work in more specialised places and areas in need. Even though starting my medical career a few months earlier does not make a big difference to me, I am proud to make even the smallest much-needed contribution to the NHS.

Along with other things, cancer prevention, screening and treatments have been paused or postponed, giving emphasis on the fight against the new coronavirus outbreak. Adjusting to the new lifestyle of staying home and making an effort to eat healthy and maintain physical activity levels can be challenging. Now, more than ever, self-management and looking after our mental wellbeing is essential. The end of this pandemic is uncertain, but I am hopeful that when the world is calm again, it will create a new normal: a new appreciation of life and healthy living, a new sense of unity with our fellow human beings and a new respect for our planet. 

Images: Authors own and Unsplash

Postscript: We have now officially graduated- via email. Even though the email did congratulate us, a lot of us hadn’t realised it until the next day. After six years, it was not the graduation we all had hoped for so there was a bittersweet feeling. I received a lot of heartfelt messages and it was interesting seeing how my fellow classmates celebrated at home by being very creative. I look forward to celebrating with friends and family once we can and hopefully have a delayed graduation ceremony in the future. For now, I am proud to be joining and serving the NHS against the Covid-19 fight and I am sure that this experience will provide us with valuable lessons for our medical years ahead. 

Dr Koula Christou, Ninewells Hospital, Dundee