The fall of 2020 was marked by another abrupt end of the practical classes for medical students in Gdansk due to the exponential increase in COVID-19 cases. Midway through October, we switched to online classes 100%. Lockdown was implemented thereafter, reducing any hopes of a normal semester to ashes. And from that day on, is as if time has hit the ‘replay track’ icon on the Spotify playlist of my life, forcing me to listen to the same song day in and out. For a week or two, at a time. My weekdays were spent on Zoom meetings anywhere between 08:00-18:00. An average of 4-6 hours of mandatory online classes daily, depending on the course. Needless to say that I find such rigidity unnecessary and counterproductive. Opinions aside, one must find ways to cope with difficulty and so did I.
Luckily, my dermatology oral exam was scheduled for early October. Reading about skin diseases yet another time, made me like the field a little more. Furthermore, distinguishing harmless skin moles from those with malignant potential is a cool skill to have.
Let’s jump right into the discussion of every course I have had thus far.
Family Medicine – 2 ECTS (1 week)
Honestly, I was not expecting much from this course. Negatively biased going into it, I suppose. However, it turned out to be a good surprise. Fun teachers, interactive classes, a variety of diseases, body systems, patients and procedures. Overall knowledge of a broad spectrum of diseases is required to thrive in this field, as well as a passion for human interaction. The biggest eye-opener for me was how little credit these physicians get for their actual work. They are the first line workers of the health care system and might save your life as the Grim Reaper casts its invisible shadow over you. Fair exam at the end of the course consisting of 20 MCQ questions.
Infectious and Tropical Diseases – 4 ECTS (2 weeks)
This is known to be one of the toughest 5th-year courses. A lot of material is thrown at you for two weeks. You go through the entire microbiology and parasitology (2nd-year flashbacks) once again, this time around with a stronger focus on disease prevention, treatment, and management. HIV, hepatitis, vaccinations, childhood infections, malaria, rabies, and tuberculosis are hot topics. My clinical group was lucky to see one patient at the clinic in Gdynia, right before school transitioned into pure online classes. The majority of the classes were deadly dull to me, personally. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the course somewhat. The exam was taken in January, long after classes being completed. 40 MCQ, 2 open questions (short answer) and 50 minutes.
Paediatric Surgery – 2 ECTS (1 week)
Paediatrics is not my thing – as you may know if you have read some of my previous posts. Surgery is something I would rather not get involved with. Now, combine the two of them and you have found a way to torture me. For those of you who aspire to become surgeons, you will probably enjoy what is on the menu every single day of the week. Different surgical techniques are discussed during seminars, along with the little details that accompany them. The final exam comprised 60 MCQ (1 minute per question).
Orthopaedics and Traumatology – 2 ECTS (2 weeks)
Medical students either love or hate it. I have not yet found a colleague who is neutral to it. Fortunately, the teachers are fun to listen to, down-to-earth and straight to the point. Fun fact. Did you know that if you cut a thumb off one of the possibilities is to replace it with your big toe? How freaky is that? Only orthopaedic surgeons could come up with such a solution. Playing with the idea of such eventuality in my head gives me goosebumps. The final exam is composed of 30 questions and more than enough time to complete it.
Paediatrics II – 4 ECTS (3 weeks)
One of the longest 5th-year courses. The first week was heavy in terms of seminars. The second week was better since we were given cases to solve. Moreover, my teacher was a paediatric nephrologist and kept classes interesting enough. The third and last week is entirely dedicated to practical training – which did not happen due to the pandemic. My group is currently negotiating the dates for the makeup classes. I can understand why paediatrics appeals to a lot of students.
Surgery II – 1 ECTS (1 week)
It was not possible to attend classes in person at the time. Therefore, we discussed a variety of topics during the online seminars. Skipping the practical aspect of surgery made me wish for an entire week of continuous, deep sleep. It felt like discussing the sex of the angels. Empty, tedious talk. The makeup practical hours were taken at the beginning of February 2021. Nothing worth remembering was seen during those classes. The date of the exam has not yet been decided.
Cardiology II – 2 ECTS (1 week)
The heart alone can provide you with food for thought for longer than you might expect. There is so much to cardiology that is difficult to squeeze it all in one week. The focus on ECG is mostly done in the 4th-year, meaning that now we can appreciate other aspects of this speciality. During the practical classes, I saw different procedures in both invasive and non-invasive cardiology. Shadowing doctors while they are working provides you with a better insight into their profession. As a result, a new world of possibilities opened before my mind’s eye. Pursuing cardiology is not in my plans. However, I must admit that my 5th-year rotation left a more positive mark on me. The test consisted of 30 MCQ and the time limit was not an issue at all.
Ethics and Deontology – 1 ECTS (1 week)
The online meetings happened a few hours after our cardiology classes. Consequently, by the time we were supposed to engage in conversation the mental exhaustion had already kicked in. Debating the ethical issues related to medicine and the future of the field was the last thing I wanted to do after such long school days. Thankfully, the test was easy peasy.
Geriatrics – 2 ECTS (1 week)
The highlights of this course are the teachers. They are passionate about the field, care for their patients and love a good challenge. Something the elderly population offers better than no one. Chronic diseases, co-morbidities, polypharmacy, malignancy. You name it. They have it. Hence, coming up with an appropriate treatment plan is harder than in the typical uncomplicated clinical picture we meet in other rotations. A short test is given at the end of the course. 20 MCQ and 20-25 minutes.
Medical Jurisprudence + Organisational Economics + Clinical Pharmacology (MOP) – 3 ECTS (1 week)
These subjects come in a bundle. In other words, you will have three separate seminars between 8:00-14:00, with a short break in between them. If you despised hygiene back in 1st-year, you are going to wish you could have it back. Nobody quite understands why we need to attend the first two courses. Nevertheless, I have come to learn that sometimes in life no good comes from seeking reason. For it changes nothing. Instead, it leaves you with a feeling of resentment. In conclusion, do what you have to do and move on. Despite not being my cup of tea, pharmacology is relevant for us. Each subject has a separate test that you will need to pass. Time is usually not an issue.
Forensic Medicine – 2 ECTS (1 week)
I had foolishly been looking forward to this one. There is a popular saying in Portuguese that goes like this ‘The higher you fly the greater the fall is.’. Let’s just say that I flew above the clouds when all I should have done was to keep my eyes on the ground below. The seminars were long, tedious, morbid. The practical classes were far from impressive. The final exam is scheduled for March.
Endocrinology – 2 ECTS (1 week)
Undoubtedly, the best 5th-year course thus far. The classes are fast-paced, straight to the point, a handful of interesting cases, and the teachers are fantastic. Hormones are fascinating. The final test is composed of 30 MCQ and we were given 35 minutes to complete it.
Oncological Surgery and Urology – 2 ECTS (1 week)
This was my last course of the fall semester. The first two days are dedicated solely to oncological surgery, whereas the emphasis is on urology for the rest of the week. An interesting course. The department is not trying to make your life harder than needed to be, which helps to shift the mindset from cramming to learning. The final test is nothing to worry about.
Habitually, 5th-year students have only one week break in between semesters. However, my group took advantage of that free week to make up the clinical hours for cardiology, orthopaedic and traumatology, general surgery, paediatric surgery and geriatrics. The good in all of this is that we will most likely make it to the final year with a clean slate. In other words, we will not have to extend our classes into the summer holidays nor come back in early September to complete these courses before the 6th-year starts.
The vaccination program for COVID-19 in Poland started in late December 2020. Registration started in early January for the majority of medical students in Gdansk. I felt way worse after the first shot in comparison to the second. General malaise and pain at the site of injection were the main symptoms.
Gdansk has been living through a beautiful winter. I would argue that it has been the best winter since 2016. A blanket of snow covered the city buildings, streets, water canals. The freezing temperatures emptied the old town squares, a precious gift for the brave spirits which refrain from a clamorous, rowdy crowd. The invigorating fresh air that embraces all of your physical body, penetrates through several layers of clothing, swiftly caresses your skin, and continues digging deeper into you. Reaching for your truth. Teasing your existential fire. Dancing ruthlessly with a myriad of coloured flames. The beauty of the different seasons is priceless. February is almost ending and one can already notice the longer, warmer, sunnier days.
How does one cope with so many hours inside the same four walls, you may ask? The most important is to create a daily routine that includes physical exercise, good food and strict sleeping schedules. I have replaced the habitual running with HIIT – High-Intensity Interval Training – 30 minutes workouts. Although in the middle of it is all about pain management, in the end, you experience a high that keeps you coming back for more. Boardgames have also brought a lot of joy into my life recently.
As the second week of my 10th semester approaches the end all I hope for is that our seminars keep the online format. I have never felt so rested throughout my studies. Now, I can wake up 5 minutes before classes start. Blissful. The pandemic has forced schools across the world to reinvent themselves. Hopefully, institutions will adapt and change the paradigm in higher education. There is no need to attend live lectures or seminars anymore. Furthermore, theoretical classes should not be forced upon students. Time is a valuable resource to all of us. Why waste it? Medical school is 100% self-learning anyway. I truly believe in the power of active learning. Yet, my will to properly study suffers a tremendous blow after countless hours of seminars/lectures. Practical classes are a different story though. The more we get used to the hospital environment, the easier the transition into the ‘real world’ of medicine will be.
I am currently in my first week – out of three – of gynaecology and obstetrics and I cannot wait to get it over with. More interesting courses will follow such as oncology, haematology and radiology. Moreover, the irresistible fresh peppery scent of graduation increases in intensity day after day. Thrilling.
Until the next post, farewell!