A new generation of doctors thrust into the battle against COVID-19
Fighting against COVID-19 in the NHS by the young doctor, Dr Eric Suen. Let's read more to hear his sharing!
What are your best memories at Imperial?
During my 6 years of study at Imperial, I was based at various campuses, including South Kensington, where most of the lectures and lab work were based, Charing Cross Hospital (located at Hammersmith) where most of the clinical lectures were based, as well as other hospitals within the Imperial College Healthcare Trust family (ICHT).
I lived at Falmouth Hall (Southside, Princes Gardens) in my first year, and the open-plan kitchen (for around 20 people) was a great way to meet lots of new friends. I met my best friend, Radu, who was also my roommate at that time. He is from Romania and studied Computer Science. We would buy groceries together, cook together, play table tennis together, go to student events together. We bought furniture from IKEA and explored London together, and we even went skiing in Austria together. We used to stay up all night sharing stories of the conversation and interactions among our families. Because of the strong bonds that we formed, he is still one of my best friends till now, and we celebrate our “friendsary” every October.
Apart from your academic experience, what other extracurricular activities were you involved in at the College?
During my study at Imperial, I was interested in student welfare and other College matters, particularly relating to our learning experience, affordable accommodation and funding for international school students, and was elected to represent the medical faculty at the union council for 3 consecutive years. I was subsequently elected as a member of the student trustee board, which sets the strategic direction of the student welfare system.
Apart from this, I was also interested in taking part in innovative start-up projects. I led one of the start-ups that made it to the Top 10 teams of the Venture Catalyst Challenge 2017, having designed a novel way of generating electricity in the desert utilising temperature gradients between sand layers.
Currently, I am running a new venture, which is due to launch early next year – it is a platform called Eugicap, which allows users to create virtual time capsules to be stored and released on our platform. In fact I met my partner for this project at Imperial as well! She is a mathematics and computer science grad and is currently working for Google. I want to seize any opportunities ahead but also wish to take my time to look for the right one!
How has your experience at Imperial shaped your personal and professional growth?
At Imperial, the level of academic teaching is excellent, in terms of research and publication work. On a personal level, the teachers and tutors are very supportive, and encourage personal growth beyond the traditional confines of medicine – including research interests, start-up projects, business ventures etc. This has allowed me to continue developing my extra-curricular interests alongside training as a doctor.
Tell us about the work that you are doing now. What is a typical day at work for you?
As a junior doctor, we have different rotations to various departments/ units quarterly. A typical day involves daytime shifts, on calls and night shifts every fortnightly.
During a normal working day, I would attend ward rounds and support the daily running of wards. This includes prescribing medications, ordering investigations, and discussing management options with my seniors. I am responsible for covering different wards during on calls and night shifts, and to manage patients accordingly.
Which part of work do you enjoy the most?
Among all types of work I am responsible for as a junior doctor, I enjoy clerking in and admitting patients the most. This is the moment when I get to engage my clinical mindset the most – where I get to spend around an hour with each patient, looking through their medical history in a thorough manner, taking a detailed history, performing a focused examination, formulating differential diagnoses, and coming up with an initial management plan for the patient. The patient would then go through the plan until they are assessed by the duty senior clinician. It is important to set a good initial plan as this process could take up to 12 hours!
Discussing the management plan with the senior clinician (i.e. post-taking in the patient) is also a part that I really enjoy as a junior doctor – it is when I get to know if I missed anything in my initial management, or if there’s anything else that I could have done for the patient. It is a steep learning curve initially, but soon enough, we will be able to know the common pitfalls and how to avoid them. This is also the time where we get to discuss some of the most interesting cases with our seniors as well. I enjoy the knowledge exchange process with senior doctors, as I can learn their approach in communicating and managing patients.
How is the COVID-19 situation like in the UK? How has the NHS responded to COVID-19?
Overall, the NHS is under a lot of staffing pressure, despite most of the staff being fully vaccinated. We have managed to replenish most medical supplies but there are isolated areas of shortfall. There is a sizable number of COVID-19 patients in the UK at the moment, but the numbers have gone down from the peak in April, where as many as half of the hospital places were taken up by COVID-19 positive patients. Family/relative visiting time has also been adjusted. Visiting was banned in our hospital until April 2021, and even for hospitals which allowed visiting, restrictions in hours and group size were introduced.
As opposed to a zero infection rate target in Hong Kong, the NHS aims to minimize the number of hospital admissions of non-COVID and non-critical patients and have these patients treated in the community, with the aim of relieving pressure on hospitals beds.
How has the journey of becoming a junior doctor been like?
The journey of becoming a junior doctor has been very fulfilling. I am able to go through a patient’s journey from being admitted to hospital, to being managed and discharged safely back home.
Occasionally, however, there were times where I had to break bad news to the patients’ families. Some of the relatives have been quite considerate and even showed empathy on the hard work the hospital staff had done, whereas others, understandably, felt resented about the outcome. Personally, I had moments of feeling disheartened, seeing patients dying and wishing for more to be done for the patients, especially during the peak COVID-19 time when visitors were not allowed to be physically present to provide emotional support to the patients.
What is your advice for current students who are looking to explore their education in the medical sector at Imperial?
The medical curriculum at Imperial lasts for 6 years, with an additional intercalated year in between. Personally, I think it is vital to choose to the right University and course to attend, as the medical courses can vary in different universities. Having said that, if you did not get into a particular University or course that you are interested in, I would encourage students to consider taking a gap year and reapply when you are more mature and ready to embark on the medical course that you are most interested in.
What are your plans for the future?
I am open to new opportunities in both HK and the UK for my medical career. I am also fond of pursuing my interest in innovation and technology, particularly in the start-up arena, such as the latest venture that I am running.