This is Danica. She is in the third year of her internal medicine residency.
“Writing the Royal College exam is a challenging time for residents in any circumstance, but having to do it during a pandemic is uniquely difficult.
I remember my first COVID-19 patient and the voices of her family, who were not allowed to visit her in the hospital.
When she died, it was hard to find the words to comfort them, knowing how much they wanted to be with her.
I think every resident has several of these stories and I wish the last of these conversations were behind us.
Every day at the hospital feels like that game of tag you played as a child, where the ground is made of molten lava and will burn you if you step on it, except this time, every surface and person you encounter is infected and will make you sick. It has been almost a year of this hypervigilance. As residents, we continue to work 26-hour shifts without pandemic pay, our patient volumes are higher, the patients are sicker and it is not uncommon for rotations to be short-staffed because of outbreaks and mandatory quarantine. With lockdowns, we are all really feeling the loss of every healthy outlet for dealing with these unprecedented stresses. We are all missing the simple things like the gym, time with friends and sharing a meal or drink. A lot of us live alone, leading to an even greater sense of isolation. People are unable to visit their families for fear of making them ill and, sadly, there are many residents who have lost close family members this year.
It is mentally and emotionally exhausting on so many levels.
As if all of these demands are not enough, the irony is not lost on me that our exam is scheduled for March 11 – the anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a pandemic, and the date of the first COVID death in Ontario. There is a monumental struggle to sit down and focus on studying at the end of the day. A lot of us are coming face to face with the effects of burnout and isolation. Our lives have become a vicious, three-way tug of war between the demands of patient care, exam and pandemic. During this resident awareness week, I hope people will consider how residency has changed over the years and what we can do better.