Medical Students in Cambridge Describe how COVID-19 has Changed Normality

The Change in Hospitals Due to COVID-19

Between 10 and 15 percent of all hospital staff is forced to isolate due to the virus at any one time. This means the system is inherently short-staffed. Further, PPE is lacking. It’s been terrible news for patients and doctors alike.

All routine operations have stopped. Papworth Hospital is one of the leading hospitals for heart and lung care. Their normal procedures have come to a standstill. Not only is there no time or capacity for these to occur, there is fear surrounding the infection of otherwise healthy individuals when they come in for routine procedures. This fear is amplified for those whose chronic condition suppresses their immune system. For instance, for those living with cystic fibrosis (CF), the risk is not worth it.


Another way COVID-19 has changed hospital procedures is through accelerating the coursework for nurses so they can jump into work in the ICU. Normally, the ICU course is 16 weeks long. There have been nurses forced to take it in a day. Something had to be done quickly. There wasn’t time to waste.

Student volunteers are taking a more active and hands-on role than they ever have before. Further, students at Cambridge University have actually asked the school to prioritize student volunteer work during the pandemic. The school has become more flexible in their approach, encouraging volunteering. But, most exams for the school are going on as scheduled so students still must choose whether or not to sacrifice their grades to be on the front lines.


Rory Durham is a 4th year medical student who works in the ICU at Papworth Hospital in Cambridge, UK. He explains the palpable dread that permeates the walls of the hospital. Everyone continues to do their job because that’s what they have to do, but the fear is nonetheless within them.

The emotional impact is large, particularly in the COVID-19 ward itself. It is not just the fear surrounding the virus, it is the isolation that comes with it. Patients can only see their family if they are saying goodbye. The hospital staff does their best to help families communicate. They bring in letters and pictures which are hung on the walls of patients’ rooms, but it is certainly not the same.  

Rory explains how you have to detach in the moment. You don’t have time to allow yourself to feel. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t difficult. He also knows thinking back, that these will be the moments that will shape him as a medical profession as well as a person.

These words provide perspective for those who are lacking it. The pandemic is more than cancelled plans, it is a fight for life for many. But more importantly, it provides a glimpse into the lives of those on the front line fighting. They are determined not to let the virus win.

You can read more about this perspective on the virus here.

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