UCL Faculty of Medical Sciences


Supporting Covid effort

Our students have been supporting the health services during the pandemic. Hear about their work on Covid wards, the vaccine rollout, fitting PPE, and handling calls for NHS 111.

Emergency response

Fifth-year medical student Priya Gopaldas responded to a New Year's Eve call for help at the Covid-19 Intensive Care Unit at UCLH.

On New Year's Eve, all UCLH medical students received an email requesting help the following day. I decided that it was time to get involved. As ICU was particularly understaffed at night, I threw myself in at the deep end with a 12-hour night shift.

My first shift was daunting. UCLH had over 200 covid positive patients. Most were intubated, ventilated, and sedated, needing round-the-clock monitoring and care. Our job involved taking basic observations every hour, such as temperature and oxygen saturation. We also helped to draw up medication, take arterial blood gases and prone patients (turning patients over to ease their breathing). I felt like part of the team from the start.

I admire the resilience of doctors and nurses seeing and treating critically ill patients every day knowing that not all of them will get better. It's so important that we follow the government rules - they can save lives!

Priya Gopaldas
"Despite feeling out of my depth at first, the nurses took the time to teach and direct me on what to do. I'm incredibly grateful for their kindness."

Keeping families in touch

Aphra Luchesa Smith, MBBS student, tells us about updating Covid patients' families on their loved ones.

I volunteered for the infectious disease team at UCLH to support the team and be involved in patient care on a Covid ward. We did a variety of jobs, including designing and running simulation training for over 150 redeployed staff, taking bloods, and a lot of sitting and talking to lonely patients.

Now in my final-year placement at North Middlesex, I went to help at their ITU over Christmas and January. I call families to update them on how their loved one is doing and facilitate video calls with unconscious patients so their families can see them. Often, I'm an extra pair of hands to assist with proning patients, procedures and fetching things.

I've since become involved with interviewing for Humans of Covid-19, a social media project sharing the stories of front-line workers. It's been good to speak with others about their experiences and to help raise awareness of some of the difficulties faced by key workers at this time.

Aphra Luchesa Smith
"It's been good to raise awareness of some of the difficulties faced by key workers."


Fitting PPE for safety

Three medical students got themselves trained to fit-test PPE so they could help their peers work safely on ICU Covid wards.

We're fifth-year medical students (left to right: Aditi Pandey, Maariya Malik, Katie Lumb) who undertook a training course to fit-test other members of staff. Since gaining the qualification, we have successfully organised a fit testing drive among the medical students at Whittington Hospital.

This has enabled 35 more students (and counting) to work safely on ICU alongside staff. Many more are eager to volunteer on ICU, which they will be able to do once they have been fit tested.

We are pleased that our efforts have enabled more students to support frontline staff, while feeling safe in their PPE.

Katie, Aditi and Maariya

Volunteering on ICU

Fourth-year student Sylvia Manimaran volunteered on ICU and at her local GP surgery.

During the second lockdown, I've been helping on ICU at UCLH and helping my local GP surgery with a new extended GP service. I've also been involved in recruiting dental and medical students to help as vaccinators at the newly opened vaccine hub in my local area.

During this time, I would usually be attending clinical placements, and attending online tutorials and teaching sessions. This has been the perfect opportunity for me to come forward and use my time in a truly valuable way. 

And as someone who's not vulnerable and doesn't live with anyone under the vulnerable category, I was well placed to be able to help in my local primary care facilities and at the hospital.

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"I've learned so much - not just clinical skills, but also administrative tasks - all of which is going to prepare me well for a future career in the NHS."

Supporting the vaccine rollout

Fifth-year medical student Eliza Lassman helped at a vaccine centre and as a call handler for an out-of-hours GP phone service.

Alongside my medical studies and hospital placements, I’ve been helping at some of the Covid vaccination centres across London. I've also been volunteering as a call handler for Westminster's out-of-hours GP phone service, aiming to ease pressures on NHS 111.

It's been incredibly rewarding, especially getting to see how grateful and overjoyed some people are getting their vaccines. It's also been amazing working so closely with the people in charge of setting up these initiatives. The organisation and management (and the hours they're putting in) is so impressive.

It's made me realise that, with enough drive and determination, you can make a huge difference, even as just one person.

Eliza Lassman
"I feel like I'm a part of history."

Experiencing the lows

Ashley Poole (pictured) and Harshi Shah talk about bouncing back from the lows of the ICU environment during Covid and how it builds resilience.

Ashley: Working with ICU nurses and learning on the job has been incredibly humbling. I've held someone’s hand as they passed away and been the first face another saw when they woke up after being on a ventilator. The lows were dreadful, but the moments of positivity and being surrounded by an incredible team made it manageable. 

I'm going to take so many things forward into the rest of my career, but two things really stand out. As an individual, there is only so much you can do. No matter how much you want to help, strength comes in numbers. Secondly, by navigating this incredibly difficult time, we’re setting a foundation to become great doctors.

Harshi: I saw more death and debilitation during my time in ICU than I ever had during medical school. I would go home at the end of each day and see the faces of patients I had looked after. I would return and see empty beds where patients had been. 

But through this sorrow, ICU taught me to build resilience and perseverance. I am now completing my final year of medical school in Luton and Dunstable Hospital and am volunteering again in Intensive Care. This time I am better prepared and will embrace the experience.

Ashley Poole
"Nothing I encountered could have been emulated in medical school teaching. However, I felt infinitely better prepared for life as a doctor."

Engaging with the public

First-year graduate student Julie Amarin is enthused by public gratitude for the NHS during her time at a Covid vaccine clinic.

The vaccine is a beacon of light for so many scared and vulnerable people, who have recounted their stories when coming to the clinic. During the Christmas holidays, I contracted COVID-19 myself, and despite being a healthy 22-year-old, it completely knocked me off my feet. It highlights how imperative frontline NHS staff are.

We've come to learn just how important human interaction is, and personally, how much I thrive off it. A big value of the job has been the sense of camaraderie amongst all the practice staff. As a first-year student, it has also been a great first step into the NHS. Many patients have shared with me their triumphs over battles with their health, thanks to the NHS.

Julie Amarin
"During my first few shifts I remember thinking to myself, 'Wow, we're really doing something big here'."

Tackling isolation by phone

Third-year student Monty Gwynne says working as a call handler with NHS 111 is an important remedy for mental health and isolation.

I wouldn't normally be on a placement this year, but I've really enjoyed working for NHS 111. It's been a learning experience - it's hard to sit there and listen to so many people calling about themselves or loved ones who are suffering. We have been overwhelmed with the volume of calls.

Many med students have now got involved at 111 and are helping alongside GPs and clinicians. What I’ve taken most from this experience is how much life has really changed for so many people. The mental health of the population is suffering, and the isolation people are experiencing is increasing.

Doing whatever I can do for 111 and the whoever the person is on the phone feels like the least I can do. It also sometimes makes me feel less alone in these bizarre times too.

Monty Gwynne
"It sometimes makes me feel less alone in these bizarre times."

Dealing with dilemmas

After a spell at Yeovil District Hospital, Ben Somasegaram explains the dilemmas many health workers face between wanting to help and keeping safe.

Being in hospital during the pandemic hasn't been easy. I've seen colleagues in tears and witnessed young, fit people gasping for breath - this was horrifying. Some of our patients are vulnerable and are terrified to come into hospital. An elderly woman told me it had been her first trip out of the house in months.

Working in hot wards truly tested my altruistic nature as a healthcare worker and aspiring doctor. I wanted to spend time with my patients, comfort them, and make them feel at home. Simultaneously, I wanted to minimise my contact time with Covid-19.

Many colleagues, and me, found this both emotionally and physically exhausting.

Ruth Williams and Ben Somasegaram
"At many points, I was concerned for my safety, as were many others. Yet, I wanted to give something back and support my local trust to my utmost ability."

Learning lessons for the future

Fourth-year Yash Mehta hopes his career will embody the values and spirit of the nurses he met and worked with at the Royal Free Hospital.

Once I walked through the doors in intensive care, all the stories I had heard suddenly became real. I could see the scale of the problem we were facing. My first sight was a row of patients lying on their fronts, on ventilators, sedated and unconscious.

The ICU nurses taught me so much in so little time. I have been humbled by the positivity and resilience of the medical staff and have immense respect and gratitude for the nurses who have strived for the best possible care.

I hope that when I graduate from medical school, I can take the values and spirit of the nurses I have been fortunate enough to meet and work alongside, into my career.

Yash Mehta
"Nurses, doctors and staff don’t have the luxury of going back to their studies or taking respite. They must continue, and my heart goes out to all of them."