COVID-19: A trainee surgeon’s perspective

COVID-19: A trainee surgeon’s perspective

Sesi Hotonu, Scottish Clinical Leadership Fellow (RCSEd/NHS Grampian), reflects on the impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had on her journey as a trainee. 

As a trainee surgeon, the pandemic has brought about a degree of uncertainty but, surprisingly, it has also presented a lot of opportunities and created some amazing instances of kindness, resilience and teamwork within the NHS.

When the UK was first plunged into lockdown back in March, I was working in a clinical role for NHS Lothian.

Personally, the pandemic has meant I haven’t had the chance to visit my family in Nigeria for some time now, and professionally, it has brought concern about my training.

I have been fearful at times of the impact it will have on my progress due to the lack of elective operations and, therefore, the lack of opportunity to learn, develop and build on the skills I had already acquired at the time the pandemic reached the UK.

I applied for the Scottish Clinical Leadership Fellow position with RCSEd last year and found out in January I had secured it. I did worry that plans for me to transition to a non-clinical role this August would have to be postponed but thankfully, that hasn’t been the case, and I’m excited to have this new opportunity to develop with RCSEd and NHS Grampian.

Despite the impact the pandemic has had on my surgical training, there have been some unexpected opportunities to learn things I might not have if the pandemic had never happened.

The restructuring of work meant that I was given additional responsibilities, extra on call duty and had a team of junior staff to guide which has helped to hone my leadership skills.

The fact that Covid-19 is a new virus has meant that health experts across the globe have not had all the answers right away. It has taken time to understand it. This created a unique situation where our most knowledgeable consultants, the people we would usually turn to for answers, didn’t always have them.

This taught me a valuable lesson - it’s OK not to have all the answers all of the time and to have the confidence to say so. Being the most senior person in a team can bring a little pressure to always know what to do, but I’ve found that when it has come to Covid-19, sometimes the most junior person in the room has been the one to find a solution to some of the problems we’ve faced during the pandemic. And we’ve had the chance to be involved in problem solving and decision making.

I have also been amazed by the resilience I have seen in my colleagues. It has brought out the beautiful side of working for the NHS.

Everyone from consultants to cleaners have bent over backwards to keep our hospitals going during the pandemic, it’s been a massive team effort. Even the smallest of gestures has meant so much, such as being given some extra biscuits by an auxiliary during a long and manic shift. Something so simple really helped to lift spirits.

There are lots of examples of kindness like this which have made me proud to be part of the NHS.

Although the future is still uncertain, but more positive as the vaccine begins to roll out, I am optimistic there are some important things we’ll be able to take from Covid-19 to make a bigger and better NHS. I hope junior staff will still have the opportunity to contribute ideas - experience still remains vital in building knowledge but the pandemic has shown that every member of the team can bring something to the table.

I also hope we can retain some digital elements of healthcare. As much as I love being hands on with patients, telephone and video consultations have been a lifeline during the pandemic and I hope these altered ways of working will still have a place. Technology has played a part in making my Scottish Clinical Leadership Fellow role possible, making it easy to socially distance and conduct a lot of my work virtually.

Personally, I have had the opportunity to do things I didn’t think I could during this time. Although I still worry about the lack of practical surgical training, I’m not as afraid of the unknown as I once was and have a new dimension of confidence I hope will stay with me through the remainder of my training.

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