An Open Letter To Interns In The Time Of Covid-19

Well, we never quite thought it would go down quite like this, did we? As I write this, the pandemic is just taking off in Australia, but in a few short weeks we will be overwhelmed. It’s ok if you are already feeling overwhelmed. We have seen and heard some heartbreaking and downright terrifying things coming out of China, Italy, the US and now the UK. I find it helpful to follow everything closely and prepare for the worst, but I do also worry about whether that’s good for my mental health… maybe you are the same.

Are you doing ok? This year was always going to be a huge step up and a steep learning curve but hoo boy, it’s going to be a ride and a half. I know there is much uncertainty in the air about what this means for you and your training. Everyone wanted that ICU elective but ironically now it might become a mandatory term, surgery looks like they will be redeployed to ED and ortho might be managing the NIV… all just speculation at this point but we are right in the thick of it. Whatever happens, don’t worry about the terms or passing the year, everyone is in the same boat. This definitely counts as an exceptional circumstance, so something will be figured out.

No doubt you have had a few days of wondering how you got here. How you ended up in this life whilst your friends are home on the couch. Maybe you’ve had flashbacks to when you decided to do medicine in the first place. Did you picture yourself going into battle to help others? Maybe you just pictured a nice office and a new car? Whatever the reason, you are here now, and it seems we are marching on. You might be feeling invisible at work amongst the preparations. But I see you. I see how hard you are working and doing your best to soak up all the new procedures and protocols, even though many of you are not in the meetings to hear the updates firsthand.  I don’t know how well you are being kept in the loop, but we won’t leave you behind. You are needed and appreciated, to a level that far exceeds many cohorts that have gone before you.

You are doing a good job. I don’t know if anyone said that to you this week, but just trust me that you are. It’s pretty normal to feel like you are the weakest link in the team, but I have worked with some of you this term and you have blown me away with how good your patient assessments are so early in the year. You are doing a good job.

I’m not so far out of internship that I have forgotten what it’s like. The world shifts on its axis every 10 weeks as you scramble to start a completely new job with people you don’t know. This is kind of similar, but the shift is exponentially bigger for you than anything I ever experienced. So, I am in awe of you. Those of you who continue to show up each day and smile hello in the corridor. Please don’t think we are forgetting about you. Everyone is a little busier and a little more on edge, the consultants are occupied with disaster planning, some of your registrars are also settling into a new role and aren’t checking in as much as they should. Forgive us. We see you.

We have a big few months ahead, but we are in it together. This may be the defining year of our careers, what a way to start as a doctor! Of all the advice I could give, the most important is to please remember to put your own mask on first, both literally and figuratively. You cannot help someone if you are sick, you cannot care for someone if you are mentally spent. If something is up and you don’t want to speak to your boss, grab a registrar. We can help you or point you in the direction of someone who can. Maybe you haven’t heard yet about the employee assistance program in your state, where you can chat for free about anything that’s troubling you in an anonymous way. They usually tell you about it in orientation, but it can get lost in the information overload of week one. The Doctors Health Advisory Service is also a useful resource.

You don’t have to have all the answers, you don’t have to suddenly be a registrar because there is a pandemic. Work within your scope and ask for guidance when you need it. Keep yourself safe and you will help keep your patients safe. Last week one of my consultants said, “Not often in ones lifetime do you get the opportunity to be truly extraordinary. We have that chance now, so let’s be extraordinary.” We never thought it would go down like this, but we will walk beside you as it does.

Doctors Health Advisory Service – Some useful numbers

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