Dr F – Impact on teaching

Dr F is doing her specialty training in neonatal intensive care and aims to become a Consultant Paediatrician. At the start of the pandemic, her unit made a lot of preparations, thinking they may have to take older children. It turned out that they didn’t need to.

During the first wave of the pandemic, Dr F’s hours didn’t change, as the planned emergency rota was never required. The situation was assessed every day and discussed by email and in person with the consultants and trainees.

One of the biggest impacts was on teaching, which was cancelled. Normally, there was lunchtime teaching from consultants and specialists visiting from elsewhere.
However, during the pandemic, visiting specialties didn’t come over as before, and eventually, they were replaced by video calls. For example, if a baby had an infectious disease, there was a virtual consultant-to-consultant meeting.

She described this as unfortunate, though understandable, in the context. She said, ‘It's a shame for us, because that tertiary neonatal experience, for me, that is my neonatal experience, and once I leave now in August, that can lead me right through to [when] I'm a consultant.

‘So that is my six months to get that experience, and so I would say that actually not having teaching in that time probably has had a negative impact on myself… I'm not getting to see knowledge and skill from the consultants that I would be there to get ordinarily.’

There were lots of changes for the parents of the patients. Rooming in − when parents stay at the hospital overnight when their baby was due to leave, to build up their confidence − was stopped.

‘Wobble rooms’ were set up to support staff, and while Dr F doesn’t know how much they were used, she described it as being a shame that they’re being taken away. She thinks there is a permanent need for these rooms, given that staff deal with the emotional toll of the death of a baby on the unit, on average, once a week one.

She said, ‘we do work in a very intense and emotionally intense environment anyway, and there's very little psychological support there for both staff and parents.

We don't have a psychologist for the parents, certainly not for the staff. So for us, it seemed a bit strange, actually, that the wobble rooms and things would only come in at the time of the pandemic when actually, we would appreciate it all the time.

‘It's just going to be taken away now despite the fact our job would probably demand it on a regular basis.’

In some respects, Dr F described less pressures outside of work as offsetting the increased stresses at work.

‘You don't have the same stresses outside of work at the minute. You weren't expected to go to the gym every day. You weren't expected to go to the shops. You weren't expected to do everything.’

But there were some new stressors, not least personal protective equipment (PPE), which affects doctors’ abilities to communicate with babies when assessing their development.

She said, ‘one of the first things they do when they're around eight weeks old…is smile.They obviously don't smile back at us anymore because we're wearing masks. It's heart-breaking. I actually need to find a clear mask somewhere.’

The pandemic has re-enforced Dr F’s sense of responsibility to her patients, in terms of what it means to be a doctor.

‘As a doctor, then as a person, [I] see it as really important to protect my babies. For example, before things were put into lockdown, you had the gyms and things. I was being really cautious. I stopped going before lockdown. I was wearing a surgical mask around Tesco's even when nobody else was advised to because I was so conscious that I could bring it to my patients. I would hate for that to happen. I would hate to infect my patients… I'm part responsible for these little, tiny patients.’