More than a year into the pandemic, Canada’s COVID-19 case count is moving up again since mid-February. Regina is seeing a sharp increase in the number of active cases due to variants of concern, and medical students are in the midst of the crisis.
Third-year medical student Sehjal Bhargava is a University of Saskatchewan student studying in Regina who started her clinicals during the pandemic. She says it has been interesting to see the healthcare system’s response to COVID-19 and the amount of communication taking place between medical students and healthcare professionals.
“The [intensive care unit] and internal medicine wards that I’m working on right now are bursting at the seams with patients, but seeing everybody still so dedicated to their job and providing holistic patient care, despite having COVID patients … it’s been really incredible,” Bhargava said.
March 28 saw 125 new cases of variants of concern in the province. In total, Saskatchewan had 1,365 cases of variants of concern. Regina’s count comprised 1,126 of that total.
Bhargava, who is interested in public health, says that the pandemic has highlighted issues that the healthcare system needs to address in the future.
“People did initially call COVID the great equalizer and then we realized it actually highlighted inequities beyond what we can even imagine,” Bhargava said.
“It’s been really interesting to be able to observe and reflect on some of those factors as a medical student.”
Bhargava says the biggest differences between her clinicals then versus now are the attention to personal hygiene, masks and the connection to her classmates.
“It’s harder to find support with your classmates because you can’t really be getting together. We’ve had to find [more] different ways to debrief and talk about our experiences than we would have before, for example, getting together and having fun together versus a Zoom call,” Bhargava said.
Although many aspects of clinicals have changed, Bhargava is still glad she has the opportunity to do her clinicals instead of having her medical education disrupted. She says she is impressed with the transition to online learning and how it enables medical students to continue their schooling.
Additionally, Bhargava says it has been inspiring to see doctors taking leadership roles during the pandemic. However, she notes that there is still some work to be done.
For one thing, Bhargava hopes politicians take health advice seriously from public health experts and recognize some of the issues that COVID-19 has brought to light, such as the impact that housing, insecurity and a lower socioeconomic status have on health.
“I hope that some of these underlying factors and these upstream determinants of health are actually being given more attention and funding and action directed towards fixing them,” Barghava said.
Bhargava adds that she suspects masks are here to stay for a while, even with vaccines.
The “most amazing” part of the pandemic experience for Bhargava has been seeing how quickly people have adapted during remote learning, and the opportunities that come with that.
“I think it’s made a lot of things more accessible… We’ve had to develop ways to keep people separated but united. It opened up a lot of new and exciting ways to connect with people and to run [things differently],” Bhargava said, citing the example of attending conferences without having to travel.
Despite the challenges of pandemic learning, Bhargava still describes her medical student experience to be “incredible”.
“If it’s something you’re interested in engaging in, COVID presents an extremely interesting time to be in healthcare and to be a medical student,” Bhargava said.