Imperial College London

Global medical students share their pandemic experiences


Thrive by Akelekeh Ndah

Thrive by Akelekeh Ndah

Medical students from around the world joined a MEdIC panel discussion to share experiences of their education during the pandemic.

The Medical Education Innovation and Research Centre (MEdIC) event gave global medical students a platform to reflect on and share their personal and professional experiences during the pandemic. 

Dr Sonia Kumar, Director of Undergraduate Primary Care Education and MEdIC said: Dr Sonia Kumar“After receiving over 600 entries from 52 countries to our Global Creative Competition last year, we knew that there was a need for global medical students to be heard and to share their experiences over this last year. It was a real privilege to share the stage with such a thoughtful and wise group of medical students from around the world.  Their honest and open reflections provided such unique insights into how medical students have dealt with and learnt from the pandemic and developed as future doctors.”  

Chaired by Dr Kumar and fifth year Imperial medical student Nour Houbby, the event saw contributions from students from Cameroon - Akelekeh Ndah (one of the winner’s of the Global Creative Competition 2020), Saudi Arabia – Museera Irshad Khan, Australia – Reuben Tee, the Philippines – Lloyd Anicier Barba, and Italy - Gökdeniz Aksit. 

Lack of patient contact 

All participants felt that one of the pandemic’s greatest effects on their studies was the inability to see patients.  Some saw rotations cancelled, while for Akeleke Ndah: “Patient attendance was low after lockdown. All we could do was read, read, read, but it was hard to practice what we had learnt.” Gökdeniz Aksit agreed about the challenges of learning remotely without patient contact: “I’ve learnt more in the first week of my cardiology clerkship that in the last semester of book learning.” 

Expect the unexpected 

Each of the students found their personal resilience tested during online learning, but it wasn’t an entirely negative experience.  Screen capture of six medical students from around the world and Dr Sonia KumarMuseera Irshad Khan said: “I’ve learnt that life is uncertain and that plans don’t always go smoothly. I need to expect the unexpected and be ready to adapt.”  Nour Houbby found herself: “appreciating the little things that I took for granted before.  I have really valued family and friends.  I’m trying to take the lessons from this year and apply them going forwards.” 

Lloyd Anicier Barba has seen the pandemic lead to a change of career direction: “Originally I wanted to be a surgeon, but now I’m thinking about health systems management. We need medical leadership and I think doctors should steer the wheel.” 

Self-care and student-led action  

Mental health challenges were front and centre of the discussion, with Reuben Tee emphasising the need to: “Be kind to yourself.  We need to remember that we are human before we are doctors”. Akeleke Ndah agreed: “You need to be aware of what you can and can’t do.  You need to take care of yourself first and know your limits. Having a hobby helps me, as I draw when I feel stressed.” 

For Lloyd Anicier Barba not being allowed to go to the hospital meant that he looked elsewhere to help others. “I’ve joined a network of medical students and we are conducting an anti-fake news and medical mis-information campaign.”  Akeleke Ndah has: “taken part in debates on WhatsApp on vaccine hesitancy to help share information.” 

Building empathy 

All participants highlighted the importance of showing and developing empathy as a medical professional.  Museera Irshad Khan found that: “I have more empathy for patients since the pandemic.  Previously I was looking at the disease rather than the patient. I didn’t feel confident talking to them about medical stuff but I was advised to talk to them about other stuff instead. Now I try to look beyond medicine and see them as whole.” 

Reuben Tee felt that: “The pandemic has exposed a lot of things sitting under our noses such as domestic violence, mental health and racial discrimination. We need to try to be aware of this and be as sensitive and empathetic a clinician as we can be.” 

Several of the participants also highlighted the need for family, friends and universities to show empathy and support for medical students, particularly when they are working in hospitals whilst the pandemic continues. 

Beyond academic support 

Dr Kumar encouraged participants to reflect on how their universities and tutors could best support them as this challenging period continues.  For Gökdeniz Aksit: “Having a good relationship with a good mentor who you can discuss issues and problems with” was really important.  Reuben Tee wanted to see: “advice on managing workloads and also a recognition that it is ok to take time out – a medical career isn’t necessarily linear, it can take lots of twists and turns and it isn’t a race to graduate.”   

2021 competition 

Imagepromoting MEdIC Global Unity competitionBuilding on the conversation and network built by MEdIC, the 2021 global competition will be on the theme of ‘Global Unity’.  Visit the MEdIC website for more information.  


Sarah Saxton

Sarah Saxton
Communications and Public Affairs


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