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Pursuing a career in surgery during a global pandemic


This week we are pleased to publish a guest blog by William Cambridge, a medical student studying at Edinburgh University and president of the Edinburgh Student Surgical Society:

Medical students have played a vital part in the UK's response to this pandemic, volunteering both in hospital and out. For example, helping NHS staff with childcare and using their creative skills to produce PPE to lessen the shortages seen in hospitals. They have also been disproportionally affected amongst university students; placements have been abruptly halted, teaching altered or cancelled outright, and the medical year of 2020 have stepped up and prematurely started work as FiY1s. 

Those medical students wanting to pursue a career in surgery may have seen Summer research projects postponed and surgical-themed electives cancelled. What can be done instead? Firstly, my advice would be to take some time off and try to relax. Medicine is a stressful and difficult course and summer allows for some much-needed time away from revision, note-making and late nights spent in the library, so make sure you have some downtime before starting any new endeavours. 

Following this, my first port of call would be the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh website. The College is currently running biweekly half-hour lectures on a whole manner of surgical conditions and problems taught by both consultants and senior trainees and aimed at medical undergraduates. The College are also offering 4th & 5th year medical students free affiliate membership. This membership gives you free access to great resources such as Acland’s Anatomy, discounted course fees for events such as the popular ‘Future Surgeons: Key Skills’, and access to a variety of bursaries and prizes. 

For those who have had research projects postponed or cancelled, I would advise asking mentors/clinicians for any systematic review or database project opportunities. These projects include collating previously published work or already anonymised data, and hence can be completed within the necessary new norm of social distancing. Additionally, systematic reviews serve as a great way to develop skills and start your research career, providing examples of both good and bad studies, as well as introducing the principles and methods of statistics, ethics and paper writing - both directly and by reading papers included in your project. 

Lockdown also provides the perfect time to practice your surgical skills. This can be as easy as getting a chair and using your laces to perfect your knot-tying ability. For those of you willing to spend money there’s also a variety of suture kits which are relatively affordable, and free resources online which go through the variety of sutures and why they’re used. 

My final piece of advice would be to have a look at what your local surgical society is currently offering. Many societies are running tutorials and providing resources for students who have missed out on teaching, whilst here in Edinburgh, we will soon be starting a twice-monthly journal club run by senior trainees and consultants discussing a whole manner of surgical specialities. 

William Cambridge. 4th year medical student at the University of Edinburgh and President of the Edinburgh Student Surgical Society


Photo by bantersnaps on Unsplash