Training post COVID-19 - what do we want our "new normal” to be?

As we start the process to Reset, Restore, Recover, writes Dr Anna-Louise Nichols, a trainee paediatrician, it is good for trainees to reflect on the past few months and think about what vision we have for our speciality moving forward.
Dr Anna-Louise Nichols

It has been a difficult, frustrating and uncertain time for all of us with disruption to our clinical services, training, exams and personal lives. Despite hardship, it has also been a time of innovation, flexibility and progress. I have felt energised and excited seeing us working with clear focus, breaking down traditional silos and communicating with patients and colleagues in novel ways.

We must not understate the effect COVID-19 has had on paediatricians from BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethic) groups and those deployed to work on the front line treating adult COVID-19 patients. This health crisis has affected those members of our profession disproportionately and will have a long-lasting effect. We must offer our colleagues a deeply interested ear and support them as they return to paediatric practice.

Dr Li Wenliang’s astute observations and courage to warn his fellow medical colleagues about a new SARS-type illness shows us the power an individual has in sharing their knowledge through social media. The collaborative working of the multidisciplinary teams who recognised and managed the first cases of PIMS-TS and rapidly disseminated their expert knowledge and experience to the paediatric community through webinars shows us what is possible when we work together.

Judging trainees by their results rather than their physical presence has been truly revolutionary

Every department has had to work differently based on the situation and constraints they have been under. However, giving trainees remote access and trusting them to work effectively from home, judging them by their results rather than their physical presence has been truly revolutionary. Flexibility in hours has also allowed doctors who are parents and carers to manage their children and families when external help in many cases evaporated overnight. Recruitment figures look positive this year, and by embracing successful new working practices we have empowered paediatric trainees, which I hope will lead to better retention.

The COVID-19 pandemic has acutely highlighted the health and social inequalities in the UK and the poorer educational and health outcomes faced by many children from disadvantaged backgrounds. We have a renewed appreciation of our valuable working relationships with education, social care and the voluntary sector. We felt the call to advocate for children and their future health, opportunities and wellbeing culminating in more than 1,500 paediatricians signing an open letter to the Prime Minister in less than 24 hours calling for a safe plan to reopen schools.

For some our faith has been renewed, job satisfaction improved and self-esteem grown

Appreciation from patients, families and the public has been overwhelming. Many of us have experienced times in our training and during this period of feeling ‘burnt out’ or disillusioned. Undoubtedly the COVID-19 era has been a tough working environment. However, for some our faith has been renewed, job satisfaction improved and self-esteem grown. I hope we can foster a doctor-patient-family relationship built on mutual respect moving forward.

We won’t be returning to ‘normal’ practice. We adapted rapidly and ‘on the hoof’ during the COVID-19 pandemic and we need to embrace the best of the new practices we have learnt while reinstating previous successful and effective systems and policies. I urge paediatric doctors, at all career stages, to read the Paediatrics 2040 report and join the conversation as the future leaders of our speciality in order that the project continues to echo your vision and that of your patients.

The Trainees Committee is keen to demystify the workings of the College and enjoys welcoming observers to our meetings. The next meeting is on Thursday, 22 October 2020 and will be held virtually. If you're interested in observing, please contact your regional representative.