Information for medical students

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Introduction

We understand that the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is affecting all medical students. As the authoritative voice of UK medical schools, this page will provide the most up-to-date information for medical students on changes occurring within medical education as a result of the pandemic. 

Clinical placements 

I missed some core clinical placements due to lockdown. What will happen now?

Medical schools are looking at the best way to provide opportunities for students who have missed out on clinical placements as a result of lockdown. Although it is not ideal, it may be that other parts of the curriculum, such as elective periods or Student Selected Components, need to be repurposed so that you can catch up on any missing core elements of your curriculum. The need to repurpose this time will vary across medical schools and may differ from student to student. You may also find that your holiday breaks are changed to accommodate your clinical placements.

When will medical students return to clinical placements?

Medical schools are exploring the best time to restart clinical placements. They are working with primary and secondary care providers to facilitate the safe return of medical students to clinical placements. Some medical schools may be able to restart in July whilst others may not need to restart until later in the year. This is because different parts of the NHS have been affected differently by the pandemic. Different regions of the UK and different specialties have been under more pressure than others. Additionally, medical school curricula differ from each other and term times vary between schools. However, we anticipate that most medical schools will be able to restart clinical placements in September 2020.

Which medical students will return to clinical placements?

Ideally, clinical placements would resume as normal for all medical students, but it seems unlikely that this will happen. The most likely outcome will be a phased or gradual return of students. Final year students will take priority and be returned to clinical placements sooner. Students in clinically based years will return after that. Students in their first and second year may be the last to return to clinical placements. This will vary from medical school to medical school. Your school will work with local placement providers in both primary and secondary care to facilitate the safe return of students to clinical placements with adequate PPE provided if necessary.

Do I have to return to clinical placements?

Yes, students who wish to progress through their course in the 2020/2021 academic year will need to complete the clinical placement requirements of their programme. It is not possible for students to meet the requirements set out in the GMC’s Outcomes for Graduates without undertaking clinical placements.
It is understandable that you may be anxious about returning to placements, but it is important to bear in mind that most medical students fall into a low risk category in terms of experiencing severe symptoms
of Covid-19. Medical schools also recognise that they owe you a duty of care and will therefore carry out full risk assessments for all placements they ask you to undertake.
There will be some students who are concerned about returning to clinical placements due to their underlying health conditions, vulnerable dependents, or increased caring responsibilities. If you are in this category, please speak to your medical school as soon as possible. 

Will I be able to travel to my placements and access testing if I get sick?

Yes, medical students on clinical placements are considered to be essential workers. You can travel freely to your placements. Any PPE that is required as part of your clinical placement should be provided to you by the placement provider. Should you become ill when on your clinical placement you will be eligible for testing.
For the moment, this is only true for England. The rules for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are uncertain at this time, but MSC and the medical schools in the devolved nations strongly support that they are adopted equally across the UK.

What if I have concerns about returning to clinical placements?

Medical schools understand that this is a stressful time for you and that you may be anxious about returning to clinical placements, especially while the pandemic is ongoing. If you are stressed and anxious about returning you need to speak to your medical school. 
Student safety is paramount and medical schools and NHS placement providers will have carried out risk assessments before asking any students to return. This includes ensuring that there will be adequate supervision and that students will be able to access PPE where appropriate. Whilst there is a risk of exposure to Covid-19 in all healthcare settings, medical schools will seek to avoid putting students in placements where risks are high and ensre the risks of any aerosol generating procedures that may be core to their training are minimised.
Most medical students are at low risk of severe COVID symptoms. Medical schools recognise that students with underlying health conditions, or students with vulnerable dependents, may be at increased risk of contracting the virus which would make a return to clinical placement inappropriate. Such students may wish to defer the 2020/21 academic year for this reason and medical schools will be sympathetic to such requests. You should aim to speak to your school as soon as possible if you feel it will not be possible for you to restart clinical placements. 

Are there any reasonable adjustments my medical school could offer?

While medical schools will continue to support students with disabilities or long-term health conditions to help them meet the GMC’s Outcomes for Graduates, medical students need to recognise that amongst such uncertainty some students may be disadvantaged through no fault of their own. For example, should you take immunosuppressive medications or have underlying respiratory conditions it may make it inappropriate for you to return to clinical placements during the pandemic and you may need to defer to the next academic year.

Will clinical placements be the same as before?

The work new graduates carry out after graduation may be different from previous years so it is only right that training will evolve to reflect this. The pandemic is forcing medical schools to rethink how they deliver learning opportunities to their students. The capacity to provide substantive teaching on clinical placements may have changed and in order to ensure that you get the learning opportunities you need to support you to meet the outcomes of your course, placements may need to be supplemented with a greater use of tools like simulation. Care itself will also have changed and you may be involved in activities such as observing virtual clinics rather than seeing patients in out-patient clinics, general practice surgeries and hospital wards. 
It is also very likely that some teaching that was delivered in the form of face-to-face tutorials or lectures will be delivered online. Medical schools are working together to produce materials that will help in the delivery of these sessions. You will need to inform your medical school if you are having problems accessing this material.

How will my clinical skills be assessed?

Medical schools run different assessments at different stages of their courses and at different times of the year. Assessments of clinical skills will continue but the detail of exactly how and when these take place may need to change. Your medical school will keep you updated on how your assessments will be run but these, like clinical placements, may be prone to enforced change. Some students have expressed discontent with the idea of any form of summative assessment in these uncertain times. However, it is important to remember that assessment is an important means of driving student learning; in addition, it is a source of feedback on your performance and can help you focus on what you need to learn to be a better doctor.

What do you think will happen in the future with clinical placements?

No one knows when the pandemic will be over. It is anticipated that there may be waves of infection and that some or all of the country may go into repeated periods of lockdown over the coming months. Medical schools are looking at all the different scenarios and working collaboratively to create new and innovative ways to teach and to learn medicine. Now more than ever there is a need for flexibility. Medical schools will communicate any changes that must be made and will work with you to ensure that you receive the teaching that is required so that we can assure the public and the GMC of your safety as a doctor.

Risk Assessments

Returning students to placements is not without risk; Covid-19 will be present in some clinical environments and students will therefore be at risk of contracting it.

Fortunately, most medical students are in an age group where their risk of serious illness as a result of Covid 19 is low. There will be some students where their personal circumstances increases their risk and this will need to be carefully managed. The Medical Schools Council has published a document that sets out how medical schools may mitigate these risks on a placement and individual student level.

Read the full statement here.

e-Learning resources and support 

What is CAPSULE and how can I use it?

CAPSULE is an online learning app designed to support UK undergraduate medical student learning. The resource contains 670 clinical cases which are mapped to the GMC’s Outcomes for graduates and linked to more than 3500 questions across 39 disciplines.

The Medical Schools Council is sponsoring CAPSULE for all UK medical schools to use free of charge until March 2021. Should you wish to access this resource, please contact your medical school. 

For content queries or corrections please contact capsule.support@bsms.ac.uk.

What is Speaking Clinically and how can I use it?

Speaking Clinically is a video archive of patients talking openly about their medical conditions. It can be used as a teaching aid or for self-directed study.

The Medical Schools Council is sponsoring access to Speaking Clinically for UK medical schools. Should you wish to use the resource, please contact your medical school to request access.

Volunteering 

What guidance is provided for medical students volunteering in the NHS?

The Medical Schools Council has set out expectations on volunteering for employers, medical schools and students. 

This document refers to volunteering roles suitable for medical students with some clinical experience, in roles that utilise their knowledge and skills above and beyond those that may be offered by non medical student volunteers. It refers to paid, structured part-time work that students may volunteer to undertake.

Before volunteering, you must remember that your first priority should be your continuing education. You must not jeopardise your readiness to qualify in the future by taking on too many additional responsibilities.

If you want to volunteer within the NHS, you must be supervised to be safe and act within your competence at all times. Arrangements should be made locally, and employers should give you relevant induction, equipment and support. 

Where can I find non-medical volunteering opportunities?

Should you wish to volunteer in a non-medical role, there are many student groups facilitating volunteering opportunities in the community

Looking after your health

Should I attend placements if I am unwell?

No. Like the wider profession, it is particularly important to look after your own mental and physical health during the pandemic. This means not attending placements if you’re unwell and self-isolating in line with national advice. This is particularly important in clinical settings, where patient safety should always be your first priority.

I have a pre-existing condition that places me at increased risk of infection whilst on placement. What should I do?

If you have pre-existing health conditions that place you at increased risk of infection, you should discuss this with your medical school or local education provider.

How can medical students take care of their mental and physical health during the pandemic?

Your usual routine may have been disrupted by the pandemic, which might make you feel stressed and anxious. As a medical student, you will be adjusting to spending increasing amounts of time staying at home. You may also be experiencing difficult feelings related to what you have seen whilst working in the NHS. This makes it particularly important that you manage your own wellbeing and seek support if needed. 

The following links provide sources of support and advice: