Who is Looking out for the Med Students and Residents?

Yep, you’ve got it. You’ve got the Swine flu.

It was my second year of my internal medicine residency and I was the sickest I could remember ever being in my life. Fever, coughing, night sweats, chills, and…. the first and only migraine I have ever had in my life. I was miserable sitting in my third floor one-bedroom apartment. I still find it a bit funny thinking back. I remember my mom and dad knocking on the door and I walking in my apartment draped in garbage bags. My mom had the antidote in her hand. A pot full of pepper soup. [Anyone with Nigerian blood knows what I’m talking about.]

According to the CDC, the 2009 H1N1 (Swine Flu) led to the death of 151,00 – 575,000 people worldwide during the first year. 80% of these were individuals younger than 65 years of age unlike the flu. Apparently, older individuals had built up enough immunity to that type of virus that they did not suffer as much as the youth. Those were interesting times but we were nowhere close to where we are today. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a different beast from the H1N1 virus. It appears more contagious and to have a higher mortality rate. It is most deadly in those over age 60 who have comorbidities unlike H1N1 that target younger populations.

After my quarantine period, I returned to the wards like nothing had happened. Back to seeing patients. Back to taking calls. Back to studying. Back to little sleep. My fellow residents weren’t too thrilled that they all had to take prophylactic Tamiflu during my absence and they weren’t silent about this. I don’t recall ever feeling as though my life was threatened by the virus but I do remember looking forward to getting back to work. I guess the sense of servitude to your fellow man superseded all fear. Or maybe it was the fear of missing work and having to extend my residency.

Looking back, I can appreciate how the voices of medical trainees can go unheard during a pandemic like this. I am hearing stories about students stepping up to assist in busy hospitals. Many 4th year medical students across Europe are now being asked to join the workforce early. At the same time, I hear stories about concerned medical students serving with inadequate protective equipment. There are no good solutions I have heard thus far and it can especially be very tough when your performance is being evaluated by a resident, fellow or attending. Now as a practicing physician, I have a seat at the table and get to voice my opinions and concerns to colleagues and hospital administrators.

I’m curious how premeds, med students, and trainees are handling this current pandemic. Do you feel safe? Are your voices being heard?

Stay safe out there. Limit your exposures and listen to your gut at all times.