Graduating in a Year Like No Other

May 5, 2021
Author: 
Blake Eligh

From an unexpected hiatus to babysitting for healthcare workers, the past year has brought plenty of new experiences for medical students graduating this spring from the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

But with these experiences came new skills and the discovery of a deep resiliency that the class of 2T1 will take into their medical careers.

PREM NICHANI AND WARD AL-FARPREM NICHANI AND WARD AL-FAR As the cohort of 254 MD graduands prepares for what’s next — convocation celebrations, licensing exams and residency placements — class co-presidents Prem Nichani and Ward Al-far look back on a year unlike any other. 

STEPPING UP

In the spring of 2020, pandemic safety protocols put the class of 2T1 on temporary hiatus from clerkship rotation. During three months of unexpected downtime, the MD students stepped up to volunteer with initiatives to support health care systems and the community. Students organized PPE collection drives, worked crisis support telephone services, filled hospital screening and public health contact tracing roles, and pitched in to offer childcare and grocery delivery services to frontline healthcare workers.

A NEW LANDSCAPE

When clinical rotations resumed in July 2020, the MD students found themselves in a medical landscape transformed by new safety protocols, new routines for health care teams and a new relationship with patients for the physicians-in-training.

Al-far provided one-on-one medical care to patients, and found himself managing the social needs of patients who couldn’t have family members nearby due to safety protocols. 

“You might find yourself supporting a scared breast cancer patient who can’t have her mother with her,” he said. “That adds a lot more emotional and social responsibility to caring for people, but the difference it makes for the patient is huge."

Al-far describes the experience as “intense” but says it solidified the communication and patient advocacy skills he will carry into his future practice.

As healthcare adapted to the changing demands of COVID-19, the new protocols also gave learners an atypical view of the specialities they might be considering.

“This is a formative period,” said Al-far of the truncated Clerkship placements that give MD students a chance to experience different medical disciplines before deciding on their speciality.

The circumstances also shifted how learners prepared for residency placements. Travel restrictions meant the 2T1 class had to find new ways to explore the cities and institutions where they hoped to land residency placements. 

“This is where we will spend the next five years and maybe set up our practices and our lives,” said Nichani. 

Despite the challenges, MD Program Foundations director Marcus Law says the past year gave this cohort a unique opportunity to put their pre-clerkship training into practice. 

“They observed how physicians learn and manage uncertainties and ambiguities,” said Law. “They also deepened their understanding of how to adapt to the unknown with new knowledge and to how to apply a health equity lens to advocate for their patients with COVID.”

“This class has developed life skills that will help them manage the next crisis,” he continued. “They’ve risen to the challenge and will be ready to tackle what comes next.”

IN IT TOGETHER

Through it all, the class of 2T1 leaned on each other, met safely outdoors when in-person visits were permitted and moved online when they were not. There were virtual town halls with faculty to keep students informed of changes and online counseling sessions offered through the Office of Health Professions Student Affairs. 

The co-presidents also helped the class safely mark milestones and make new memories together. They recently hosted the first-ever virtual match party to celebrate residency matches and are preparing for an online convocation to take place Tuesday, June 15.

FUTURE FORWARD

With classes behind them, many in the 2T1 cohort are preparing for licensing exams and making relocation plans to begin their residency placements on July 1. 

This period also typically offers opportunities for travel and rest, a break Nichani notes is especially needed after the intense pressures of the past year. 

The co-presidents say their 2T1 classmates showed extraordinary determination and resiliency over the past year which will stand them in good stead in the future.

“Making it through these four years is a challenge itself, but with the pandemic, it’s a quite an accomplishment,” said Al-far, who will start residency in anesthesiology at McMaster University in July.

Nichani, who will remain in Toronto for his residency in ophthalmology, agrees. “Despite how hard this experience has been, it made our class stronger together and as individuals,” he said. “We’ve been through a heck of a lot.”

Vice Dean, Medical Education Patricia Houston lauded the class for their accomplishments and contributions.

“In addition to offering my congratulations the class of 2T1 on the successful completion of the MD Program, I also want to thank our newest graduates,” said Houston.

“Over the last year in particular, the class of 2T1 has stepped up to help in the clinical environment, assisted in caring safely for COVID patients and were a help to students in the other years of the program. It’s been a privilege to work with each of these students and I wish them the best as they embark upon the next chapter in their life long education journey.”