What it’s like to be studying medicine in mid-2020

22 May 2020

University of Notre Dame Australia Postgraduate Medical student Monica Zheng is well aware of the importance of emotional intelligence in healthcare. Having gained experience in the clinical setting, she knows that being able to empathise with patients is the first step towards effective treatment.

“I was never much of a HASS person,” Monica says with a wide smile, “I did podiatry, which I loved, but it’s a bit restricted in its scope, so once I hit a certain point that felt like it was it.”

In search of a bigger challenge, Monica applied for medicine at Notre Dame’s Fremantle Campus and three years later is sitting at her computer discussing the effects of the recent global events on studying medicine.

“At the start of all this we were discussing whether medical students needed to go out into workforce early, but that didn’t have to happen,” Monica says.

There was three or four weeks at the beginning that were quite stressful for a lot of people, but we had a lot of support from the Dean and ongoing meetings to discuss the latest developments. Being in medicine meant we had the advantage of knowing about things that might have been under the radar of the media.

Coming from a family of doctors—both Monica’s parents are in medical research and her sister is a doctor—means she has been exposed to the world of medicine from an early age and has seen plenty of changes in how healthcare is practiced in Australia.

With the COVID-19 pandemic causing lockdowns across the world, Monica notes that some interesting effects have occurred because of the widespread government and societal reaction to the virus.

“It’s been interesting to see the presentations to emergency departments go down,” she says, “so if that continues after the pandemic is over people might have a shift in their understanding of what requires a trip to emergency and what doesn’t.

“The average waiting time in ED is four hours, so if people think about whether they really need to be there, there could be a positive change in the time to get emergency treatment.”

To be studying medicine at a time like this would likely come with a mixture of emotions. Though Monica has kept a confident assurance that this is what she wants to do, some students may feel stressed, afraid, and some may even be evaluating their decision to go into medicine.

On the other hand, some may feel as though this global health crisis is why they got into medicine in the first place, and the recent uptick in praise for healthcare professionals is a validation of their hard work. In a display of the empathy required to become a successful medical professional, Monica elaborates on why she wants to see the ‘hero worship’ of healthcare workers expand beyond the obvious.

Whilst I value that people want to thank the doctors for going out of their way and putting in the time, so many other people, like cleaners, who are inundated at the moment, aren’t being praised as heroes, even though what they do is equally important in the preventive side as the treatment side. I think everyone's done a good job at this stage. It's just that it’s a health problem. Therefore, the default is, let's celebrate health workers.

However this pandemic resolves, and whatever changes occur over the coming years, Monica has a plan for what comes next for her.

“Because I have a podiatry background, the lower limb musculoskeletal side of things comes naturally to me,” she says, casually downplaying the years of hard work and dedication that led to this natural ability, “so that’s probably where I’ll end up, likely on the surgery side.”

Wherever Monica ends up, her experience in dealing with patients and Notre Dame’s focus on holistic patient-centred care will undoubtedly lead to her successful career helping others.

Find out more about the School of Medicine.

Media Contact: Breyon Gibbs : +61 8 9433 0569 | breyon.gibbs@nd.edu.au