New C4WW research project: The effect of Covid-19 on newly qualified doctors – “Called to Serve”

The coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has led to extraordinary measures being undertaken to enable NHS frontline staff to meet clinical demand in a time of staff shortages due to illness or caring responsibilities. This includes recalling retired clinical staff to duty and repurposing buildings across the UK as hospitals. Another source of help identified were the 5,500 final-year medical students at 42 UK medical schools. These students ordinarily graduate in June and commence their first jobs as doctors in their foundation year placements in August. However, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, some of the 2019-2020 UK final-year medical student cohort graduated 4 months early, in April 2020, to enable them to join the workforce to help reduce pressure on the NHS1. The GMC is providing the opportunity for early provisional registration to graduated students who ‘opt in’2 and many have now begun, or are soon due to begin, what is being termed the “Interim Foundation Placement”.

Those final-year medical students have commenced their foundation year at a time when levels of clinical demand and uncertainty are very high and staff shortages are probable, exacerbating existing pressures on the NHS prior to the outbreak3. Experienced junior doctors are concerned about the threat of the current circumstances to their physical and mental health4. Given the novelty of the role for newly-qualified interim foundation doctors, there is potential for this to be one of the most affected groups, as they enter into their first clinical roles in a rapidly-changing, high-pressure environment. In reality, the implications of early provisional registration and work commencement in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic are unknown. Recently, there has been a call to prioritise immediate research into understanding the psychological, physiological and structural factors which could be protective to the mental health of health and social care staff5. This week we launched a project, “Called to Serve”, which will answer this call by assessing the effect of the Covid-19 outbreak on the mental and physical health and wellbeing of final-year medical students, and the potential predictors of their health and wellbeing resilience during and after the pandemic. The project will also seek to assess the cohort’s workplace behaviours, coping strategies and the context of their experiences as they begin their work in the NHS during a global pandemic.

  1. Harvey, A. (2020). Covid-19: medical schools given powers to graduate final year students early to help NHS. BMJ; 368:m1227. Retrieved from https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m1227
  2. General Medical Council. (2020, March 26). Joint statement: early provisional registration for final year medical students. Retrieved from https://www.gmc-uk.org/news/news-archive/early-provisional-registration-for-final-year-medical-students
  3. The Kings’ Fund. 2018. The health care workforce in England: make or break? Retrieved from https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/health-care-workforce-england
  4. Scott, R., Heath, R., & Lostis, E. (2020). Covid-19: Junior doctors are worried about their physical and mental health. BMJ. Retrieved from https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2020/04/03/covid-19-junior-doctors-are-worried-about-their-physical-and-mental-health/
  5. Holmes, E. A., O’Connor, R. C., Perry, V. H., Tracey, I., Wessely, S., Arseneault, L., … & Ford, T. (2020). Multidisciplinary research priorities for the COVID-19 pandemic: a call for action for mental health science. The Lancet Psychiatry. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2215036620301681

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