Medical residents start new careers with crash course in COVID-19

It’s been less than two weeks since Dr. Willem Blois started his residency at the Halifax Infirmary, but already he’s had to put his new safety skills to the test when interacting with a patient who was being tested for COVID-19. 

“I’ve been nervous but excited,” Blois said about starting his new job in internal medicine. “But the transition so far has been very easy.”

This month, 170 residents embarked on their careers through Dalhousie University with an extra layer of pressure no one could have anticipated. 

About half of them are from the Maritimes. Others had to travel and move while most of the country was shut down. 

In a statement, the school says it had to find temporary accommodations, write letters for both provincial and national border crossings and provide updates to residents on the rules they had to follow to get to the province. 

“We also scheduled training for incoming residents that their medical schools were unable to offer and assisted with helping them overcome barriers to credentialing,” the statement said. 

‘Not the ideal way to meet your colleagues’

Blois was fortunate. He went to medical school at Dalhousie and was already in Halifax when everything shut down. 

Instead of meeting his peers through typical orientation barbecues and training sessions, they had to meet online. 

“That’s definitely different, and I think in every session we’ve acknowledged it’s not the ideal way to meet your colleagues and the people who you’re going to go depend on for support,” he said.

Graduating medical students had a bit of “luck” in their final months of school, Blois said. Their final elective just happened to end on the day the province shut down. Their final class then moved online, and the students ended up with extra downtime in between the stress of medical school and starting their residencies.

About half of Dalhousie’s residents are from the Maritimes, while others had to travel and move. (Dalhousie University)

He said at times, he wasn’t sure if he was nervous more about starting his job or the actual pandemic. 

“It was quite anxiety provoking,” he said. Now that he’s getting into a routine, he said he feels completely prepared and supported. 

Residents had specific sessions on the proper use of wearing PPE, or personal protective equipment. 

“That’s been helpful. That’s certainly made me feel a lot more comfortable engaging in clinical environments,” he said. “There was never a question my safety was going to be at risk.”

Excited for the future

Blois said from the residents he’s spoken with, they’ve appreciated the extra work that has been done by the hospitals and the university to help them start their careers. 

“They’ve really encouraged us to reach out if anything is happening during this strange time,” he said.

As for another issue prominent in Nova Scotia health care — doctor recruitment — Blois is quick to say he’s here to stay. 

“My plan all along was to set up in a small hospital and practise internal medicine,” he said. “I’m excited to see how I can pursue that through the next three years.”

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