When I graduated in April 2020, there was no manual for starting FY1 four months early. There was certainly no instruction booklet for starting FY1 in the middle of a pandemic.
It was unprecedented and then, thought to be a unique moment in time. I don’t think anyone would have expected that one year on, I would be writing to the next cohort of final year medical students with top tips for starting FY1 in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Starting FY1 in 2021 will be challenging, unpredictable and definitely not quite how you would have once expected to start your foundation years. However, from my experience you will learn a huge amount and there will be plenty of enjoyable moments along the way.
Practice adapting the skills that you have learned at medical school to the new working environment. The clinical environment is quite different now to how we experienced it as young medical students.
Everyone is wearing masks, staff are social distancing, visiting is restricted and cleanliness is absolutely key. A number of skills that you will have learnt at medical school might need some adaptation.
Breaking bad news may be done over the phone, examinations will be conducted whilst wearing PPE and histories may be taken without a pen and paper in hand. If you can, I would begin to practice these skills in a way that will fit the new working environment as it will take some time to adapt what has become so innate over five years of practice.
Be prepared for ambiguity and uncertainty. This year it is not only FY1s that are entering the unknown, but all healthcare professionals.
It is important to prepare yourself for the fact that due to the uncertainty of the situation, rotas, colleagues and services might change on a weekly or even daily basis. This can be unsettling, but if you are prepared to accept a level of ambiguity it will make things easier.
Remember the uncertainty and apprehension is the same for everyone around you, even your most senior colleagues - so don’t feel afraid to speak up and share your feelings as it can be reassuring to remember that everyone’s in the same boat.
Look after yourself. This is essential for every doctor at all stages, as to care for patients to the best of your ability, you must look after your physical and mental health. Unfortunately, this can be challenging at the moment. Longer, more stressful shifts can affect our physical and mental wellbeing, and we are attempting to restore this without our usual hobbies and support networks.
Before starting FY1 this year, I would think carefully about how you plan to maintain a happy and healthy lifestyle. I would suggest focusing on the basics of eating, sleeping and exercising first. It sounds obvious but adjusting to a new routine can be a challenge.
Build things into your routine gradually, making sure that you always find time in the day for something that offers a mental escape from the workplace. Keep in contact with those that will offer you support and if you ever feel like you are struggling or not getting the support that you need, ask for help, as there is always someone that can.
Be kind. If you are ever unsure about what to do, who to ask, how to act, where you’re going or what you’re doing, the answer is always, be human and be kind.
When you meet someone for the first time, introduce yourself. Say please and thank you. Ask people how they are. Smile behind your mask. It sounds so simple, but it can be easy to forget, and when patients or staff are tired or scared or stressed or struggling, these are the things that will make the most difference.
Remember, this is the moment that you’ve been waiting for. This year will mark the start of your career as a doctor and hopefully you will look back and be grateful for the added challenges that you’ve been presented with.
I am somewhat envious of the time that you have to prepare yourself for the new environment, but equally understanding of the apprehension that that may cause. Just remember, speaking on behalf of your new colleagues, that we are all in this together and we are always here to help.