COVID & Communication – A Medical Student’s Perspective

Written by Ololade Akinboro – Final Year Medical Student, University of Liverpool

During the first wave of the pandemic, life at medical school ground to a screeching halt. One minute, I was in Liverpool slogging away through hospital rotations. Next, I was on a deserted ghost train heading back to my hometown for what seemed like  the foreseeable future. 

Like most other medical students, I started working in my local NHS Trust to help, whichever way I could, to alleviate some of the strain on the hospitals. . Even still, I found I had time on my hands like I never did before. 

So, like most people suddenly thrust into this new pandemic era, I tried my best to fill that time. I developed  an interest (obsession) with learning and trying new things; coding, running and listening to psychology podcasts. And while I will not be running marathons anytime soon, my attempt to “broaden my horizons” have certainly opened some doors. My interest in coding grew to an interest in Innovation in healthcare, which led me to apply for an Internship with CardMedic. Similarly, my foray into the world of psychology led to some interesting  realisations. I discovered one thing: communication is such an important aspect of human interaction – and it’s something we as humans don’t do very well. 

“In adverse conditions, communication can fall apart very quickly.”

Communication during normal, everyday life can be difficult and ineffective (many conflicts arise due to misunderstandings with our friends, loved ones and in the workplace), but in adverse conditions, communication can fall apart very quickly. Think  of the last time you tried to have a conversation with someone who was very emotionally charged, or via a Zoom call with terrible connection. It can be a frustrating experience, much like  banging one’s  head against a wall. 

As such, it is no surprise that a substantial portion of training in medical school is dedicated to teaching and examining our  communication skills. We are encouraged to practice having difficult conversations like discussing do-not-resuscitate forms or placating an upset patient. However, nothing could have prepared  us for the multiple barriers to  communication that the pandemic created. There were undoubtedly many instances of patients finding themselves in unfamiliar surroundings, having to communicate  with staff through multiple layers of PPE or completely unable to communicate due to language or speech difficulties. 

“It is very inspiring that these challenging times, in some ways, have fast tracked innovating to provide solutions to  some long-standing problems within the NHS.”

Luckily, human innovation allowed us to overcome  some of these barriers. Bedside videoconferencing allowed patients to see and say goodbye to their loved ones, and CardMedic facilitated clinical interactions in a simple yet creative way.  It is very inspiring that these challenging times, in some ways, have fast tracked innovating to provide solutions to  some long-standing problems within the NHS.

So if there’s anything I’ve learned over the pandemic up, it’s these three things.

  • I absolutely hate running
  • There is way more maths involved in coding than I anticipated, and 
  • Our survival as a species is absolutely dependent on effective communication, nowhere more so than in the context of healthcare. 

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