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Touching Lives

24 March 2020

I reached out to a couple of trainees today as they are on the front line and stepping up to meet the challenges COVID-19 presents – one is due to become a father in the next month or so and he is worried about his wife, her pregnancy and their child. His family live in Iran where, allegedly, a COVID-19 related death is occurring every ten minutes. The other trainee I spoke to has inflammatory bowel disease and is on a regular prescription of steroids – they are understandably worried.  Closer to home, my son told me that a boy in his class at school burst into tears in a lesson as his grandparents had been diagnosed with COVID-19.  

As teachers and trainers, we have a significant responsibility in regard to our trainees and, by extension, those who depend on them, now and in the future.  For me, teaching begins with caring for, inspiring and celebrating the successes of our trainees. This is even more important than ever at the present time. By demonstrating these attributes to our trainees, holistically and respectfully, we hopefully inspire them to be the best they can be, in any situation. We must remember that the impact of our interactions extend beyond the clinical setting and into the homes and family lives of our trainees. Likewise, they will carry any personal and family worries or concerns into the training environment and we must be mindful of this. As teachers, demonstrating compassion and understanding goes a long way and has a wider impact and influence than what we might immediately see.

As teachers, we must also be mindful of the influence our actions can have on the wider surgical team. We are held up as leaders and should therefore model the best possible behaviours attributes. One of the ways of measuring whether we are successful in doing so is by actively seeking and receiving feedback. This helps us to reflect on our own development and to recognise our blind spots. I hope to write more on this here in subsequent posts, with the aims of raising awareness of suitable feedback tools and stimulating a conversation on their effectiveness

For now, I just wish to send a message, to the FST membership and beyond. Dealing with the ongoing impacts of COVID-19 will bring incredible challenges and stresses to all NHS staff. Whilst trainees on the frontline will be primarily concerned with treating patients and ensuring their safety, they will undoubtedly have underlying personal concerns about the impact upon their own training and progression and about their families, friends and loved ones. Therefore, please remember some of the key skills of being a good a teacher: listening; communicating; being present; self-control; and respect. These attributes are more important than ever now and will help us all get through an incredibly difficult time.     

As teachers and trainers, we also need to remember that we are human too – be kind to yourselves. 

Finally, for any surgical trainees concerned about the impacts of the extraordinary current situation, I direct you to the recent statements from the JCST and ASiT via the links below.

About the author:

David O ReganDavid O'Regan is the Director of the Faculty of Surgical Trainers. He has been a Consultant adult Cardiac Surgeon in Leeds since 2001.

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