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Student BMJ Student

Covid-19: the medical students responding to the pandemic

BMJ 2020; 369 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m2160 (Published 15 June 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;369:m2160

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Rapid Response:

Re: Covid-19: the medical students responding to the pandemic

Dear Editor

Thank you for your article outlining the vast array of roles that medical students have taken during this pandemic. I feel extremely proud to be part of a student workforce that, alongside student nurses, student midwives, and other healthcare professionals in training, have shown true altruism during this unparalleled time.

As a 4th year medical student, I was unable to finish my placements for the year, and although I must admit that at first, the thought of no exams filled most of us with some joy, for me, there is now a feeling of unpreparedness and vulnerability heading into the final year. In addition to this, electives (I was initially heading to Barbados) have had to be modified. Having worked in paediatric theatres as a healthcare assistant prior to university, I returned to work here, as well as searching for a new elective.

I have been fortunate to become involved in a COVID-19 disaster innovation project, CardMedic, founded by Dr Rachael Grimaldi, an NHS anaesthetist. What began as a project for my elective, has become an internship, of which I am extremely proud to be a part of. CardMedic is a free digital communication resource available on the web and an app, as a tool for communication through the PPE barrier. With an A-Z of flashcards covering common topics including procedures, diagnoses and investigations, it is simple to use. Healthcare professionals can use the app on their mobile device, a computer, or print the card as a PDF. Translations are available in multiple languages, as well as a read-aloud version for partially sighted, blind, and unwell patients. I have really enjoyed taking the lead on enhancing the accessibility of the site and app, to improve communication with patients who have underlying cognitive impairment, including learning disabilities, stroke, dementia, autism and ADHD. By using simple English, with symbols and/or photographs, we hope CardMedic will be invaluable for patients with differing communication needs. I have helped to organise and undertake frontline rapid turnaround qualitative research to demonstrate the effectiveness of CardMedic. New flashcards are regularly being added, and there are many future plans for CardMedic and its continued use in a post-pandemic time.

Whilst working in theatres during the pandemic, I have spent many hours in PPE, and felt the difficulties in communicating with my colleagues and patients. Without facial expression, and lip movements, I have come to realise how much we rely on these factors to communicate effectively. I cannot imagine how scary it must be to be a patient, and not be able to fully understand my condition, my care and the people who are caring for me. I hope CardMedic can ease this for these patients.

I have learnt so much from this experience and developed a range of new skills, from chairing my very first meeting (albeit virtually), to writing new content. I appreciate even more the importance of assessing the patient’s communication needs prior to communicating with them and adapting my resources and skills to enable them to have the best care possible. I know that I will carry this with me throughout my career.

I would like to pass on a thought to students who may perhaps be starting to think about electives for 2021, and emphasise that a rewarding, fulfilling, and imaginative elective needn’t be abroad. We don’t know how COVID will be affecting our lives next summer, but don’t let the potential barriers deflate your hopes for an exciting elective. The opportunities are out there.

Many thanks,

Scarlett Brandley

Competing interests: No competing interests

07 July 2020
Scarlett Brandley
4th Year Medical Student
University of Leeds
School of Medicine, Leeds, UK