STP Reflections | Coronavirus & STP

My day-dream version of the “perfect 1st year” of the STP is calm, controlled, and organised – just how I like my life to work! *Cue dream sequence music and a way dissolve into my STP fantasy* My OneFile portfolio is at (or even ahead of) the target progression, my Manchester university exams went ahead as normal (and I did amazingly), I’ve finished my first year rotations by the end of the first year and I’ve just returned back to my host department ready to remind everyone who I am and get learning on my specialist rotations. 

My actual first year is a long way from this! I am definitely not at my target progression, I have completed about half of my first year rotations before returning to my host department, Manchester set a 3000 word assignment worth half of my 1st year grades, and I have felt far from in control(!) 2 weeks before lockdown began I returned to my host department as the lab I was working in chose to halt training whilst they adapted to the rapidly changing world of coronavirus. Changes came thick and fast to our way of working and I felt permanently on edge, expecting dramatic changes at any moment. I’ve discovered that I don’t mind change in itself, what I struggle with is sudden change – I really like a good amount of warning when something new is about to happen; unfortunately this pandemic is new territory for the NHS and no one could predict what lay ahead.

Whilst I have found the last few months physically and mentally exhausting, I have gained a great deal of invaluable experience from it. I have understood why the NSHCS always says that adaptability is such an important skill (the whole world is having to figure this out along with me!); I certainly never expected to reach the level of competency in my own lab that I’ve reached in the 1st year (I am running sections of the laboratory unsupervised and have taken great pleasure in feeling like an invaluable member of the team); and I have bonded well with my team as we navigate a stressful and exhausting world. 

A year ago I self-referred myself to the mental health charity Talking Space as I was suffering with increasing anxiety, low mood, and panic attacks. “Past me” without the skills I developed during that counselling would really have struggled to keep it together during this pandemic, but “present me”, with a tool belt of cognitive behavioural therapy, has been able to adapt to the daily challenges and further developed my own mental resilience. Every STP will have had a different experience of the pandemic so far, whether they were at home using the extra time for studying, redeployed to support their trust, or working in their host departments like me. From every angle, there are vital skills that we have learnt which will make us adaptable, resilient, empathetic, strong leaders in the future.

Author: Kat

2nd year Immunology STP trainee based at Southampton General Hospital.

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