As a fifth-year medical student, I was curious about the emergence of a new viral pneumonia in China. One of my favourite third-year modules had focussed on the emergence of viruses from animals, and I vividly remember one tutorial with an academic who had worked with immunodeficient patients during the 80s before HIV was identified.
I assumed optimistically that this new infection would cause a short-lived outbreak and lead to the creation of a new lecture in this lecture course. However, by the end of January, my friends’ travel and study plans were interrupted, scientific newsletters increasingly mentioned this SARS-like virus, and many people were infected and dying. Fast forward 5 months and like for every other student, trinity term is different this year. With medical school on pause, instead of rowing in Summer Eights and spending sunny evenings in the meadow, I’m helping with a vaccine trial and I haven’t seen some of my best friends for many weeks.
After our course was stopped in March, the medical school office tried to find us roles in Oxford which would let us help in some way. Some of my peers went home, and some of those who stayed were assigned jobs in the Oxford hospitals or in Primary Care. I was offered a job working at the Oxford Vaccine Group, which is leading efforts in the UK to produce a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2.
We do a mixture of tasks at the centre: some administrative, others an opportunity to practice our skills in clinic. The clinical trial set up is new to me, and it’s been a huge but enjoyable learning curve. Prior to this my knowledge of clinical trials was limited to reading papers and by this I mean often flicking through without always understanding the precise rationale for why one test was chosen over another, or imagining how it might work on a day-to-day basis. Helping with this study and experiencing data collection first-hand means I think I might be finally starting to understand.
Two things have especially inspired me during this experience: firstly, how many different teams have come together to work in unison on this research effort. The doctors and nurses working in this field have considerable experience and I have learnt so much from their clinical manner, as well as about my own practical skills. The second thing that has struck me is how generous participants can be. I often ask why people volunteered to take part and there is no standard answer. I think everyone has found the headlines of the last few months difficult to read and isolation sometimes strange and lonely, but the generosity and compassion displayed by many participants has buoyed me endlessly.
The trial will continue past our return to medical school, which is planned for early July, and I hope to stay involved in some way. It is now being rolled out to many more sites in the UK. You can read more about it here.
Rebecca (Becca) te Water Naude (2015, B.M. B.Ch Medicine – Clinical)
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Published: 5 June 2020