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Balancing clinical and research work during Covid 19 - the strain, the gain and the best of us all

Staff from the General Intensive Care Ward at University Hospital Southampton NHS FT
Staff at University Hospital Southampton NHS FT from General Intensive Care Ward

Stephen Lim is a NIHR Clinical Lecturer in Geriatric Medicine, working in the Wessex deanery. He tweets at @StephenERLim.

These are challenging times. As I write this blog, it has only been a few hours since I witnessed the passing of a very good friend of mine on the ward that I am currently working on. I was told by my colleague that he had asked for me, but I was a few minutes too late to say my goodbyes to him. It was an emotional morning; yet there is work to be done, other patients to care for, and the shift must carry on.

Since the outbreak of Covid 19, I have temporarily stopped most of my research activities and have been on clinical duties full time, based mainly at the Acute Medical Unit and the Emergency Department. When we were told that more doctors were needed in the frontline, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation about working full time clinically.

The response from the trust and fellow healthcare professionals was fantastic. In a very short period of time, work and shift patterns were changed and everyone pulled together to ensure that the hospital was well-prepared to face this pandemic.

Life in the frontline has its challenges. We strive to do our best for our patients, to care for them, and restore them to good health when we can, or care for them during their last few moments of their lives. Yet the fear of contracting the virus while at work, or bringing it back to your loved ones and family members is ever so real. Nonetheless, a sense of duty for our patients and camaraderie between fellow colleagues has made the process a real pleasure. I believe that at the core of it all, what drives us as healthcare professionals is the desire to care for others. To care for our patients in their time of need, when they are most vulnerable. And the reward? To see them return to good health and safely brought home to their loved ones.

If things had gone as planned, I would probably be currently pre-occupied with a new study, the NIHR ARC-funded ImPACt study, exploring volunteer-led resistance exercise among community-dwelling older people. Understandably, things have been put on hold for obvious reasons. Yet, there are still opportunities aplenty to be involved in research. I have been involved in supporting recruitment of participants to Covid 19 related studies locally, as well as conducting data collection for the CovidCollab project. ‘Spare time’ at home is judiciously used to catch up with writing and reviewing papers.

Adapting to the needs of present times is important. In time, things will hopefully return to normal… ish. Till then, I count myself privileged to be able to play a small part in caring for others during these difficult times, while still being able to be involved in research in a small way.

ImPACt study: https://www.arc-wx.nihr.ac.uk/research-areas/ageing-and-dementia/sub-theme-1-managing-multi-morbidity-across-health-and-social-care/improving-physical-activity-of-older-people-in-the-community-through-trained-volunteers-the-impact-study/

CovidCollab project: https://www.bgs.org.uk/resources/covid-19-gemrc-covidcollab-data-collection-project

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