An Alternative Covid-19 STP Perspective

The Intensive Care Unit can be a challenging environment in the most ‘ordinary’ of pre-pandemic times.

Undoubtedly, the Coronavirus outbreak has shone a spotlight on the world of Critical Care; the specialised, continuous multidisciplinary care of patients with life-threatening conditions. By very definition, the patients in these units are very closely monitored and measured changes are slow, steady and gradual. This normality was changed by Covid-19, it very quickly turned elective treatment into emergency treatment and intubations into ECMO; it saw staff redeployed into Critical Care ‘surge teams’ and time became as precious as gold. It also highlighted the strength of the union of the whole hospital as one big multidisciplinary team, which is defined as ‘combining several professional specialisations in an approach to a problem’. I was not only new to working in a hospital in September but also Critical Care and that was OK because everybody was learning together. I still find it hard to believe that even without a dress rehearsal, everything fell into place by combining several professional specialisations in approach to this previously unimaginable problem.

Our training as scientists teaches us to be flexible and adaptable in everything we do – this has never been more important. But what an opportunity to be flexible whilst working alongside so many people from different disciplines. Working with staff I probably wouldn’t have otherwise worked with has been crucial to widening my appreciation of different roles within our big combined team. I have found this network invaluable whilst on rotation in other departments, so get talking! I used to start sentences with “I know this is a stupid question, but..”, before seeking answers that were perfectly valid and reasonable. How can there be such a thing as a ‘stupid’ question in these uncertain times? I wish I had realised this before; no question is stupid. On one occasion, a colleague reminded me “we determine the extent of our perceived stupidity. If you ask the question, the feeling of stupidity immediately disappears because you learn the answer. Alternatively, if you don’t ask the question, the feeling of stupidity remains until such time as you meet the answer, often by chance”. As scientists, we know the importance and value of asking questions, so we must always continue to do so and encourage others to do the same. 

As STP trainees, we promote careers in healthcare science and what better time than now to continue to do so. There has never been a greater appreciation of our work, in news headlines scientists tower over celebrities, medics talk louder than critics and the compassion shown by the NHS puts selfishness to shame. I feel so proud of my colleagues and proud to be even the smallest part of the response to Covid-19. I will always be grateful for the support, invaluable teaching and advice given to me by true NHS heroes during these most difficult of times. 

My advice to fellow trainees is to embrace the required flexibility during these times – build a network that allows you to transition seamlessly during your rotations, whenever they will be. Make yourself ask questions and take comfort from the fact that everybody else is learning too. On that note, always ask for support if you need it, whether that be from other trainees, your training officer or colleagues in your Trust – they are there to help!

Ellen O’Brien

First Year Critical Care STP

Author: Ellen O'Brien

First Year Critical Care STP Trainee at Papworth Hospital, Cambridge.

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