Doctor in PPE

In their words

In their words

Our survey asked respondents to give written descriptions of their experiences of working during the pandemic. Other respondents volunteered to speak in recorded interviews with the RCP oral history project officer. A selection of these are included in the exhibition, and additional quotes and interview extracts not featured in the physical exhibition can be read and listened to on this page.

Transcripts of all recordings can be found in the 'More information' section at the bottom of this page.

‘The amazing camaraderie and determination to get through an awful time fills me with pride!’

NJ, care of the elderly consultant, London

Coming together

‘I think it is also important to hear from clerical staff [eg] switchboard who had many staff shielding and still managed to keep an extremely busy 24/7 service running, dealt with an increase in telephone calls from upset relatives who could not attend hospital to be with their relatives and had to change some processes to support the on-call emergency teams […] Please don’t ever forget the smallest cogs that also keep the machine running! Thank you.’

Anon, Midlands


CH, Community Contact Tracer, north-east England and Yorkshire, on talking to local communities:


‘I was made redundant from my academic job of 16 years on 31 March [2020]. I worked as a consultant rheumatologist in OPD [the outpatient department] for 1 day. On 2 April 2020 I was redeployed to work full time on the COVID palliative care ward. I haven’t done general medicine for 22 years […] I found redeployment very difficult but was very well supported by the medicine for older people team I was working with.’

Anon, rheumatology consultant, UK


 AJ, respiratory consultant, east of England, describes how the local community supported the medical workforce:


Protection, communication, frustration

‘During the first two waves, I saw so many unnecessary, unpleasant deaths. People saying goodbye to their loved ones via an ipad, a phone call, or through multiple layers of plastic PPE.’          

AE, geriatrics IMT2 (internal medicine stage 2), Midlands


AF, professor of paediatrics, south-west England, speaks about the relationship between scientists and politicians:

‘Support arrived but nobody wanted to enter the room as there was no PPE available. The cardiac arrest team stood outside and communicated with us via a piece of paper which they wrote messages on and held up to the window for us to see. The door was opened and the crash trolley was pushed through to us. I had to shout what medications I wanted and administer it myself as none of the nurses wanted to enter the room […] We attempted to comfort [the patient], repositioned her in bed and held her hand as she rapidly passed away.’

ED, respiratory registrar, London


ED, respiratory registrar, south-east England, recounts an incident from early in the pandemic that stuck with her:

Emotional toll

‘My husband (who is also a doctor) and I were genuinely worried that we might go to work and never come home. We have two school-age children and checked our will and that my brother was happy to be their guardian if anything happened to us.’

JB-M, geriatric medicine consultant, Scotland


‘I remember being so sad that I was probably going to be the last person to touch his hand […] when it should have been his family […] I could not bear that the last person to touch his skin should be wearing a glove so when I said goodbye to him, even though he wasn’t aware I took my glove off and held his hand a moment before I left, though [I] obviously washed them very carefully afterwards.’

AK, palliative medicine consultant, London


‘I felt untethered. Like a small boat, whose anchor had been cut, and I was now being thrown around a relentless stormy sea, all black skies and thundering rain. This is how I felt following the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the run up to “freedom day” on 19 July 2021, plagued by pathological anxiety that I’d never experienced before […] My terror at the prospect of a repeat of the preventable suffering and anguish, whilst others hungrily anticipated casting the safety precautions aside chewed me up. Why didn’t people care about protecting their fellow human beings? Why were people so unwilling to make small sacrifices, to act for the greater good? […] Why is it that the experiences of so many of us in the NHS and those outside of healthcare affected by the pandemic, are still not being understood?’

YT, palliative medicine ST5 (specialty training year 5), London


‘There was a complete national misunderstanding of the emotional strain on these people [care home staff]: they had lost residents who felt like family members, they were grieving […] My over-riding feeling is one of grief and regret. It feels like my specialty failed. We had decent plans for pandemics – not in terms of specific interventions, but certainly in terms of command and control – and these were abandoned by national leaders within days.’

Anon, health protection consultant, UK


JdW, acute medicine consultant, London,  speaks about working in an overwhelmed hospital:


‘It was quite astonishing how we could have 12 patients die in a day, their beds would quickly be replaced with a new patient, and the following day half of the ward would die. The turnover was incredible.’

KF, palliative medicine acting consultant, north-east England and Yorkshire


‘The past 2.5 years have been really difficult. I never thought I would experience burnout but that probably describes my current position.’

Anon, rheumatology consultant, UK


SF, respiratory consultant, south-east England, talks about the fear among juniors and consultants:

I was most surprised by the stark contrast between the kindness and community spirit of so many, and the lies, misinformation and aggression of a small number of COVID deniers. To have people protesting outside the doors of a hospital in which people were dying was something I never thought I’d see.’

L-JS, respiratory and internal medicine consultant, London


‘I remember being scared that I wouldn’t understand the disease and wouldn’t know how to recognise and treat it: I specialise in acute respiratory medicine so I felt that I should know what to do, but I didn’t.’

CM, acute and respiratory medicine consultant, north-east England and Yorkshire


‘I feel incredibly proud of all my clinical colleagues and completely disillusioned about those in power in the government, healthcare system, expert bodies etc who it seems to me failed to learn from their international colleagues, failed to protect those under their authority and failed to speak up when it mattered. I think rebuilding trust is going to take some time.’

Anon, respiratory FY1 (foundation year 1) doctor, Scotland


‘There was no clarity on anything. It was time of Great Chaos. Specifically being a foreigner with no family in this country it always kept going through my mind if I died how will my wife arrange [for] my body to be sent back to my home country[?] I was worried more for my family rather than myself. It was only after the vaccination when I started to feel safe. [The] pandemic just exposed the weaknesses and fault lines of society and [the] health system.’

TA, rheumatology specialist registrar, Wales


SS, retired consultant physician in respiratory medicine, London, discusses coming out of retirement to teach medicine during COVID:



‘The pandemic has politicised me in a way I could not have predicted […] The relentless vaccine misinformation and lack of (UK-based) regulation on social media made me stick two fingers up at

Facebook and I deleted my account there. As a member of an ethnic minority, I have become acutely aware of healthcare disparities and to my shame, I cannot recall if my ethnicity was recorded at the time of my first jab. The present administration at the top still struggles with creating an inclusive and sincere discourse around race and health (and social care) and this filters down to important omissions, such as ethnicity and death certification.’

MA, palliative medicine consultant, UK


‘I think I am a better doctor for having been a patient so recently – especially a patient who had no family support whilst IP [an inpatient] due to COVID rules. As senior doctor, I am now more likely to pick up the phone to a relative to update then I used to be.’

Anon, elderly care specialist doctor, UK


‘The pandemic took away all of the joy from my job. Socialising with co-workers and friends after work, meeting relatives and seeing patients’ faces change when they were with people they loved. I am no longer sure whether this is the career that I want and that is terrifying.’

AE, geriatrics IMT2 (internal medicine stage 2), Midlands


‘Unlike the pandemic experience of many people in non-medical professions who had plenty of time at home in quiet contemplation with their families, the precise opposite thing has happened for healthcare workers.’

DS, geriatric and general internal medicine consultant, south-west England


XHSC, infectious diseases specialty registrar, no location provided, shares her memories of SARS in Singapore:


‘My positive thing was the bravery and dedication of ‘ordinary people’ (hospital/hospice cleaners, porters, maintenance services) who just carried on doing their jobs despite the fear and their relative lack of control over the circumstances.’

AK, palliative medicine consultant, London

Fighting Back

‘A guidelines committee was put together at the outset as there was both a surfeit of information and misinformation. I have been a member of this group from the beginning; we meet weekly and update the online guidance as appropriate. Our response is real-time, we were able to make [treatment with the steroid] dexamethasone standard of care from the day the results were released from the RECOVERY trial.’

SF, respiratory consultant, south-east England


‘There was a quick escalation of “telemedicine” to enable this as safely as possible even though a number of our staff felt this reduced their ability to do the job as completely as they are used to by visiting […] My nursing colleagues also spent a lot of their time using IT solutions to help families see/speak to their loved ones during this time as they could not be there themselves.’

AK, palliative medicine consultant, London


KMH, associate inpatient contact tracer, north-east England and Yorkshire, on talking with patients with COVID:


‘Many of our patients did not have English as their first language […] I noticed vaccine information and more general information about COVID-19 was not reaching them. I trawled through NHS resources and other information from specific community groups and societies to find what would be best suited to the patient; whether this be a video in their language talking about the importance of vaccination (in the case of some Roma Slovak women, this was best, as they sometimes cannot read in their own language), or a printed out information sheet in the patient’s first language detailing the facts about COVID.’

KMH, associate inpatient contact tracer, north-east England and Yorkshire


‘I embarked on the role of “inpatient contact tracer” in August 2021 […] Hospital inpatients with COVID-19 were not being adequately contact traced, and contacts [of people who had tested positive for COVID-19] were not being advised to isolate. The initiative of inpatient contact tracing, or IPCT for short, was set up to try and bridge this gap.

KMH, associate inpatient contact tracer, north-east England and Yorkshire


‘We all slogged away in the first 2 weeks trying to incorporate and learn how to use the new setup, and working our way through each of our 13,000-plus patients’ records to work out which patients needed to be advised to “shield”, as per the guidance provided to us by NHS England.’

JG, general practitioner, east of England


‘I think from a personal perspective, I have been one of the great beneficiaries of the pandemic, as I have been able to achieve many of my departmental objectives within the first year of my post, capitalising on the momentum of rapid-paced change and a fair wind of crisis.’

DS, geriatric and general internal medicine consultant, south-west England


‘At the start of the pandemic, someone kind decided to do an “NHS clap”. I remember the first one and it was so heartwarming standing on our street hearing it. I have a video. Then they decided to do it every week. My neighbours would tease me if we were late, “We’re doing this for you!”. It was a bit embarrassing and made me feel a bit uncomfortable after a while.’

JG, general practitioner, east of England


‘We need to remember the pandemic for what it was rather than pretending that it was something different through the lens of post-vaccine COVID. [If] we don’t learn properly from it we might face the same problem again.’

SH, infectious diseases, IMT1 (internal medicine stage 1), north-west England

Part of the exhibition Fortitude

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