Issue #109
December 2020
Life as a Trainee during COVID-19

This year has been particularly challenging for Trainees, with all 2020 RCPA examinations rescheduled to the fourth quarter of the year due to COVID-19. Dr Richard Ruddell is a Chemical Pathology Registrar at Mater Pathology in Brisbane; he explains the challenges he has faced in relation to training and adjusting to the new examination schedule.

“From a chemistry point of view, the pandemic hasn’t caused any major changes to my actual training. I have still had access to supervision and all the usual laboratory testing that you would expect under normal circumstances. Initially in March, there was a slight dip in the number of tests which came through the laboratory but after that initial lockdown period, everyone came back to the pathology laboratories and our workload picked up again, so we didn’t really miss too much.

“I think the hardest thing to deal with has been the push back of our exams towards the end of the year. We were in study mode at the beginning of the year for examinations in May, but we were advised that these would unfortunately be delayed until October. When I found out about the delay, I took a little break from study and picked it back up towards the middle of the year but that initial effort felt a bit wasted. When you think about it, we have had a whole year to worry about exams when really everything should have been done and dusted by August.,” said Dr Ruddell.

Since the start of the pandemic, the RCPA has closely monitored the evolving situation in order to provide as much clarity as possible to Trainees. On 16th March, the RCPA communicated to all Trainees that exams would be delayed until the fourth quarter of 2020, and on 31 March the dates of the revised exams were announced. Trainees sitting exams were all individually contacted by RCPA Training Advisors who were on hand to provide support during this time.

“I know that it has been minor compared with what some people have had to deal with during this pandemic, but it has been a prolonged stressful year in terms of anxiety and not knowing when it will be over. As we will be getting our exam results much later than expected, it’s hard to plan anything and I will potentially go straight from training into a new job with no time to recover from the exam stress.

“Thankfully, I have two very supportive consultants here who are always willing to help in any way they can and there are a few registrars in QLD who are studying chemistry that meet up occasionally (depending on lockdown). It has been slightly unusual, but I think there has been just enough social contact to keep everyone sane. And of course, I have my family to bring me back to normality,” said Dr Ruddell.

Initially, the second phase of the examinations were to be held in Sydney as normal, however due to unpredictable travel restrictions, on 10 August Trainees were advised that all exams would be held in their local state or country with vivas conducted virtually.

“I think the big change is the fact that the oral exam is not face to face which I’m sure will have its own challenges, such as knowing where to look, how to remain calm and appear confident and looking at the camera rather than to someone’s face. But to be honest, I found that everyone has just got on with it. Lots of the situations we all found ourselves in weren’t through anyone’s fault and I think the solutions that the College put forward to us were all clear and timely. I never really had any issues with it from that perspective, so it was just making the best of a bad deal, and everyone got through it in the end,” said Dr Ruddell.



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