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Physician Training and the Pandemic: Where do we go from here?

14 Jan 2022

Dr Jennifer Cathcart, Co-Chair of our Trainees’ Committee, reflects on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on training for physicians.

The Covid pandemic was declared on March 11th 2020. The global death toll stood at just over 4000 people. Six people had died in the UK of the disease.  I had just finished a set of nightshifts. My speciality interview was cancelled. All restaurants were shut. All my study leave and annual leave was cancelled along with clinics and procedures. Medical courses were cancelled. I had seen my first set of patients with COVID and I was paranoid of getting it myself. At the time I had never  heard of Teams or Zoom. This story being typical of what was happening to many doctors in training across the country with slight variations.

Just under 2 years later, over 5 million people have died. Many of us have had coronavirus and many have had loved ones and colleagues die. We have witnessed deaths, heartbreak, survival and burnout. We have got to grips with teams, zoom and telemedicine. We had put on the various face masks and eyewear and been fit tested multiple times. We have read and followed ever changing new guidance on treatments, cardiac arrest management, and aerosol generating procedures. We have adapted, innovated and pushed through. We now have vaccines. We now have treatments. We are now trying to carry on with our training and we keep up hope that it will return to the standard it was before the pandemic.  However, increasing pressures, social distancing, waves of COVID and staff absences continue to thwart training opportunities.

I want to remind ourselves of the hurdles we have come through and are still facing as Trainees. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a massive impact on our training.  The GMC national training survey found that burnout was high amongst trainees. No wonder: there are huge geographical variations in training within the context of covid-19 pandemic, with some areas being harder hit than others, though no area has been unaffected. We have highlighted these findings to the various bodies that regulate and oversee medical training. There are no easy solutions to bridge gaps in training, and investment of time and money is needed. Derogations were made previously along with covid outcomes for ARCP which are to remain for now.  ARCPs need to acknowledge the realities of the current state of training and should not be distant from the pressures on the ground. ARCP panels are being advised to be pragmatic to compensate for this. For higher speciality training, we are embarking on a new curriculum for general internal medicine, please find guidance for this on the JRCPTB website.

We as a Trainee Committee will continue to advocate for better training, more recruitment as needed, more access to LTFT (less than full time) and better training environments. We ask for training doctors to be seen as an essential part of the recovery plan with a balance of quantity of trainees and quality of training as equally important. The tremendous hard work of trainees must be congratulated and commended; there are many people alive today because of you and the sacrifices you have made, so thank you.

Here are some things you may find helpful;

  1. Wellbeing resources: please check them out. The knowledge hub, BMA and RCPSG have good wellbeing resources. Looking after your mental health comes first.
  2. Educational Supervisor meetings: An individualised approach to bridging training gaps is needed. Please ensure you have had a detailed meeting with your supervisor and have a plan on how best to the approach these. This is also an opportunity to discuss problems and flag up issues with achieving curriculum outcomes which can be fed back to the TPD for solutions to be made.
  3. Courses/Webinars: Many are running live or online. Please make use of them to tick off curriculum outcomes. See the college website.
  4. Complain: If things aren’t right then please let us know or let your supervisor know. We can only fix things if we know they are broken.

Things we are doing as a Trainee Committee and College;

  1. Rest spaces campaign. Please check this out on twitter. We are campaigning for funding for better rest spaces in hospitals.
  2. LTFT survey and event. We are focusing on improving access to LTFT as we feel this is an important option to help with worklife balance. To achieve this, we need data, please fill out our survey. We are also hosting a LTFT event next year so keep an eye on the college website.
  3. Advocate on key issues. We will continue to advocate for better training, more supervisor time to help with training gaps and more trainee recruitment.
  4. Other events. We are planning several other events all aimed at trainees. So please keep an eye on the colleges website or our twitter page @rcpsgtrainees
  5. Buddy scheme. Junior to Senior mentoring. This is aimed at West of Scotland trainees just now but we hope to roll it out wider in future.

Please follow us on twitter @RCPSGtrainees
if you would like to join our Wellbeing or Educational Subgroup then please email

Category: Workforce

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