Caught in the cross wire of COVID-19 during examinations
On 17 August 2021 New Zealand reported its first case of COVID-19 in the community in six months after a person tested positive in Auckland. As a result, the entire country was placed in a hard lockdown - meaning all schools and non-essential businesses must close and people were only able to leave their homes to visit the supermarket, for solo exercise, or for medical care. Alexandra Li is a fifth-year registrar at Waikato Hospital in Hamilton, New Zealand and a trainee for her RCPA Fellowship. She explains how the lockdown affected her Viva examination.
“I have been preparing for these exams since before I came back from maternity leave around one year ago. The examinations would usually be held in Australia, but last year they were moved online due to travel restrictions. Going to Australia was never going to be on the cards for our year group so we were already prepared for that. I had already heard a little about the process from people who had done it the previous year, so I knew what to expect. The plan was to go to Auckland where we would essentially go into a room and sit the exam over Zoom with examiners in Australia.
“About one week before the exam was set to take place, we had our first community case of COVID-19 in Auckland, the first in a long time. Suddenly we didn’t know what was going to happen and we were told that same day we were going into lockdown. As Kiwis, our lockdowns are quite strict so we knew right away that we wouldn’t be able to go to Auckland. Kathy Robinson from the RCPA had already reassured us that the College had contingency plans in place and had told us not to worry. We already knew that if there was a lockdown then the examinations would still happen, but I don’t think you realise until it actually happens what the implications are. You are unable to go to work, you aren’t able to go anywhere - you are literally just stuck at home.
“I think it was around 24 hours after lockdown was announced that we got an email from the College to say that they were working on a plan. Another 24 hours later they contacted us to say that it was going ahead, and that we would be sitting the exams at home over Zoom. Although we had reassurance that there were contingency plans, I think the first 24 hours was a little worrying as we didn’t know exactly what was going to happen, however I wouldn’t say it was overly stressful. I think 48 hours to put a plan together and let us know what is happening was pretty good really. There was a lot going on outside of the examinations as we all work at the hospital - we still weren’t sure whether there were other community cases or how many other cases they were going to find.
“I would say compared to being jet lagged in a new country and having to find your way around new places it was almost quite easy knowing that we were in the hands of someone in IT. We also got reassurance from the College that if there were IT issues then it wasn’t going to be held against us and that they would make allowances which was very reassuring. I think there were a couple of minor glitches but nothing major and everything seemed to be under control.
“I think Kathy in particular was great at keeping in touch with everyone. She personally phoned everyone and kept us in the loop with what was going on. Quite a few people in the study group have young kids and she checked that they had someone to keep them quiet and out of the way which was a nice touch. I would commend the College that we actually managed to get the exams done with minimal difficulty.”