Being a third-year medical student is tough. From full-time placements to studying for board exams to building a competitive residency application, matters could not feel more tense and uncertain. And then, at the very peak, COVID-19 happened. Any plans I had for electives were cancelled, placement teachings went online, and I flew back to my home country to self-isolate for 14-days. Everything was up in the air. How will we have exams? What will I do for reference letters? How can I use my medical knowledge and skills to help?
As the world was shutting down, it almost felt like I was doing the same. Everything felt like it was out of my hands. Adapting to a new learning environment while finding alternative outlets to make up for my cancelled electives was challenging. External support was limited; however, I knew I needed to do something to help with the crisis at hand. While clinical opportunities were sparse, I was able to volunteer my time to telephone support lines, which allowed me to help others through these difficult and unprecedented times. Volunteering prompted me to feel like I had a purpose and could really make a difference, even if it were outside the medical field. I was able to utilize my skills in active listening and demonstrate empathy to provide support for those seeking it.
Volunteering in these positions opened my eyes to the mental health difficulties that people were facing, especially in light of the pandemic. People expressed fear, loss, instability, and concerns surrounding availability of resources to support them. This pandemic’s impact appeared to expand much further than the burden on infected individuals, their families, and the health care system. This allowed me to shift my perspectives about some of my worries around school and placements. Not to devalue any worries or anxieties that I, or others, faced, but to realize that we are all impacted in our own ways.
Initially, all I wanted was to be on the front lines, using my clinical knowledge to help tackle this pandemic. As it turns out, I could still make a meaningful impact by simply being on line 1.