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Twenty-four newly-qualified junior doctors have responded to the challenge of COVID-19 by starting their roles at Mid and South Essex NHS Foundation Trust several months early.
Final year medical students saw their exams and planned overseas elective placements disrupted by the pandemic. The General Medical Council agreed alternative forms of final assessment and said that many students could begin work as junior doctors three months before the traditional start date in early August.
Doctors Kate Ledbury and Kati O’Brien, who both studied at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, are working in Basildon Hospital’s stroke unit. They are among six Year 1 doctors who started at Basildon last week, along with ten at Southend and eight at Mid Essex.
Although students at Barts managed to complete their exams, Dr Ledbury missed out on a three month overseas placement in Australia, where she would have worked in helicopter and emergency medicine. Dr O’Brien planned to work for three months with ophthalmology services in Australia and the Philippines.
Instead the pair responded to the challenges facing the NHS during the COVID crisis by starting their first year of training early and practicing as junior doctors.
Neither had any doubts.
Dr O’Brien said: “When the lockdown happened I just really wanted to start using all the skills I had spent years learning while the knowledge was still fresh.”
“We had spent years training,” Dr Ledbury says, “so if we can help then it’s good we can put our skills to use.”
None of the early starters are working on COVID-19 wards, but all doctors wear personal protective equipment (PPE) when with patients.
Reflecting on her first week, Dr O’Brien said: “Any experience working in a hospital with patients and colleagues is brilliant and it is good to get involved at this time.”
The trust’s director of medical education, Dr Johnson Samuel, said: “It is a massive privilege to have them here. They have made a huge sacrifice to come in on the frontline and they are getting a head start after all those years of study.
“Having such enthusiastic and selfless junior doctors coming through the system has further boosted my admiration for our young colleagues and it is a privilege and pleasure to work alongside them.”