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How Covid-19 affected a trainee sonographer

8 October, 2020

Author: Mary Okunnuga, Student Sonographer, Imperial College NHS Healthcare Trust, London

Mary Okunnuga, Student Sonographer, Imperial College NHS Healthcare Trust, London
Mary Okunnuga, Student Sonographer, Imperial College NHS Healthcare Trust, London

This time last year, if anyone had told me a pandemic that would change the world as we know it was on the horizon, I would not have believed it. I had just commenced my journey as a trainee sonographer, and I found that the role of a sonographer was quite different from that of a radiographer which I had been for some years.

Being a trainee sonographer is equally fascinating and intense and I enjoyed immersing myself into the world of ultrasound. Everything had been going well until the unexpected happened - Covid-19. This pandemic has affected everyone in many ways. As a trainee sonographer, it bought up some challenges of its own.

At the beginning of the pandemic there was a great deal of uncertainty. I remember having an upcoming exam and waiting to hear if the university would remain open or be closing on exam day. There was an uneasiness with what would happen with the remaining modules still to be completed. With so many changes and confusion happening, it was extremely difficult to focus on ultrasound academia when all around me the news of Covid-19 was spreading, accompanied by pessimism and gloom. I did end up sitting the exam at university and later that same week we went into lockdown.

The university proceeded to digitise all lectures and exams and I became accustomed with using platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Fortunately, we had always been taught using the flipped classroom model of studying, where students are given learning materials beforehand to allow for discussions and problem-solving activities within the classes - so transitioning into virtual learning was not that difficult.

My lecturers were incredibly supportive and understanding of what students were going through and how stressful it was for us. The students and lecturers had regular open dialogue, with feedback actively followed up.

Although the academic aspect of the training was running smoothly despite all the modifications, there were still challenges within clinical practice. I had originally made plans, anticipating how the rest of the training year would go and how I expected to progress. Covid-19 had other ideas. All my plans had been disrupted, I had gone from having regular training lists and building up my clinical confidence to having my training halted.

I was concerned about deskilling. Would I forget everything? I had been working hard to learn in the months preceding the pandemic. Would I lose the confidence I had been steadily building? These were things that often went around in my mind as each day passed.

I found that I was not alone with these thoughts. Many of my fellow trainee sonographers felt the same. We would converse regularly in our ultrasound group chat which was a great way for us to stay connected. Whether redeployed, still training or having to shield, we were all going through the same emotions and same pressures. Being a part of the group was a great source of support and encouragement for us all.

On average, most sonographers tend to work in isolation, and I found that this pandemic really brought about a greater sense of teamwork within my department. My colleagues worked diligently throughout the whole pandemic, dealing with many suspected and confirmed Covid-19 patients.

The ultrasound scans were mostly performed portably and I was able to learn so much on point-of-care ultrasound and gain experience, which is not something I would have been able to do previously. I was exposed to so many interesting cases during this period, which has given me a deeper appreciation of how important and pivotal ultrasound is in triaging patients.

Despite the different challenges that I faced during this pandemic as a trainee sonographer, I have found that the experience has helped me to be much more adaptable. I have learned how to acclimatise during a very unusual and trying period. My digital literacy and technology skills have improved greatly, and I have learned how to work better in a multifaceted manner.

The fear that I had about deskilling was soon erased and I find that scanning has now become natural to me. I learned through this pandemic how much sonographers are an integral part of the healthcare team.

Although it is uncertain what the future holds, what I am certain of is that I look forward to being a qualified sonographer and to be able to play my part in contributing to moving the ultrasound profession forwards.
 

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