Reflections from a junior doctor during the COVID-19 crisis

Monash alumna and medical intern, Dr Assia Comella, reflects on her experiences at the frontline during COVID-19.

The current global situation has inevitably implied the need for several changes to the health care system under several points of view.

As a junior doctor, I have been able to witness how quickly the health system has had to adapt to the increasing demand of support required and put new regulations in place for the health and safety of their staff, patients and the community as a whole.

This has impacted everyone in one way or another: medical students not being able to complete their clinical placements, junior doctors faced with harder decisions, administration staff having to work from home and extra hours to ensure safe rostering, senior medical staff having to attend several online meetings to make decisions regarding people’s safety, nursing staff and medical staff working in fever clinics, PSA staff working extra shifts to ensure optimal standard of hygiene in hospitals, etc.

Everyone has been a major player in this, showing great adaptability skills. Suddenly, medical teams had to be divided into smaller ones to limit interactions, to minimise the potential spread of the infection and to ensure safe physical distancing. PPE education was enforced with online videos and on-site training sessions. Continuous changes in rosters were needed in order to ensure everyone’s physical and psychological safety.

Planning meetings, ground rounds and JMS teaching were all organised online with platforms such and Zoom and WedCisco, requiring quick uptake of some IT skills. MET calls and code blues’ PPE requirements had to be modified, learning from the continuously evolving literature and overseas experiences. Early thorough discussion regarding Goal of Care (GOC) at every admission had to be undertaken. Social coffee breaks at the end of ward rounds were not possible anymore. Everyone subconsciously became more self-aware of the interactions they had on a daily basis and were more mindful of the space around them.

There are lots of points of reflection that these busy, tiring, enduring, financially and emotionally draining days have brought us as healthcare workers and citizens of the world as a whole. This global pandemic has definitely been a burden on the healthcare system, but I think it has also brought a lot of new interventions and revisited old ones that might have been disregarded in the past. Dr Assia Comella in the hospital ward

The importance of quick triaging of patients, the relevance of adequate PPE that healthcare workers should always perform for their own and for patients’ safety, the use of technology to our advantage to communicate, the important GOC discussion early in the admission, flexibility and adaptability.

These are all crucial aspects of being involved in the healthcare system with the aim to optimise it at any time, and not just during a time of pandemic. The healthcare system is an always growing entity. This pandemic has definitely thrown a lot of challenges and seen our work as doctors change enormously, but it has also brought a lot of perspective, which hopefully when this is over, we will be able to cherish and learn from.

Starting my working career as a doctor during such testing times has been challenging and scary, but it has definitely reminded me of the importance of working as a team and of working safely to achieve the best possible outcome for everyone, staff, patients, the country and the world.

It has shown me how much I value doing what I have trained so many years for, and how being a doctor is not just about treating the one patient in front of you, but about also about public health, human interactions and kindness towards one another in order to reach the best possible outcome for the patient in front of you, for society and for us as healthcare workers.

Health professionals, citizens, we can all do our part in facing this pandemic, by respecting rules, being kind to one another and committing to never forget how we have worked hard to go past these challenging times. We need to cherish learning points for the future from all of this.

As Gandhi said “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever”.