COVID-19 adaptations and how your university helped you excel through it.

The COVID pandemic affected everyone in many different ways, including university students and their universities.

Programs like Medicine & Nursing, in particular, were posed the unique challenge of ensuring that students received sufficient clinical exposure to qualify professionally, while at the same time, universities also had to ensure the safety of students as well as patients.

For pre-clinical students, much of their classes were shifted online to accommodate to national guidelines and to students who were restricted from travelling. Because this early stage of the course involves mainly learning theory, the virtual classroom worked as well as a physical lecture hall but with some added flexibilities – such as now being able to re-watch recordings of previous lectures, which is handy if you needed to review a topic again or understand it better. Dissection labs were also carried out on campus when restrictions permitted.

As for clinical students at UCD, after the first wave we were lucky to be able to resume placements in hospitals without any cancellations or gaps, and with the appropriate safety measures in place. The Health Service Executive (HSE), which is the equivalent to the Ministry of Health, had indicated clinical students as frontline workers, which meant we could continue with placements regardless of the level of restrictions. What this also meant was that clinical students were given the privilege of being the first few in the country to receive COVID vaccines, too!

Lectures for clinical students also shifted online and were a mix of pre-recordings and live online lectures. So after our normal ward activities during the day with the appropriate distancing and guidelines (ward rounds, history-taking, attending clinics and theatre, bedside tutorials) we could then head home to study from the online lectures on our own accord. This is different to pre-COVID days where the lectures would be carried out in the hospital lecture theatres and we would have no access to recordings.

Some clinical specialties had even gone to the length of developing special interactive e-modules for UCD students, where we can work through different clinical scenarios while interacting with an animated patient. The medical education team also recorded videos of each physical examination, such as how to auscultate the chest with a stethoscope and find reflexes with a reflex hammer, only for UCD students to watch and refer to.

Towards the end of the academic year when COVID numbers improved and we were all fully vaccinated, we slowly transitioned back to what it was like pre-COVID but blended with all the benefits of online learning — we started having lectures and tutorials in-person again at the hospital, but we would also have access to recordings and interactive e-modules, the best of both worlds!