Training during the COVID-19 pandemic

As a Royal College and professional body, the RCoA has a number of national responsibilities, with the aim of ensuring we provide the highest quality of care to patients. These include

  • recruiting new doctors into the specialty
  • setting an appropriate curriculum for anaesthetists in training to follow to obtain their CCT
  • administering high quality examinations
  • provision of specialty specific guidance for CPD, revalidation and appointments to substantive consultant posts.

If you are an anaesthetist in training, at times it can feel these college workstreams are working against you, with job applications, annual ARCPs and attempts at the Primary and Final FRCA featuring high amongst top ten most stressful life events for many.

However, the RCoA is also a membership organisation, here to support and champion you and the anaesthetic profession throughout your career. We constantly strive to provide a professional service to supporting your career, your interests and your progression in the training programme; we work on your behalf to set standards for the specialty and we work to influence national bodies to coordinate and organize training and working conditions.

The balance between supporting the needs of the membership and the expectations of the public and broader healthcare sector is always a challenge; and then along came Covid-19.

Each of us knows the chaos the pandemic brought to our departments and personal lives. Trainees had additional, specific worries: would ARCPs be failed due to missing modules; would job interviews or exams still go ahead; how long would trainees be stranded in their current placements; and would training now be extended?

Along with supporting the national clinical response to the pandemic, the RCoA was faced with the unprecedented task of finding solutions to these concurrent training crises. This required the training, exams and recruitment teams along with our council members to work with a variety of external agencies across the four nations of the UK. When engaged in these negotiations we tried as hard as possible to advocate for what was best for our specialty and our members, in full knowledge that our colleagues from other colleges were doing the same. Sometimes there was alignment of ideas and sometimes not. The resulting decisions were attempts to find the best compromise with the many competing interests from colleges, trade unions, employers and government policy. At times as the complexity and regularity of these discussions increased, communication with our trainee members suffered – not with any malicious or obstructive intent, but because the people involved were concentrating on the task in hand, and because no one wanted to release primitive information that later changed and caused further anxiety.

As currently we are fortunate to be in a period of relative calm, we thought this would be an opportunity to review the areas of greatest concern for trainees, and to provide more detailed explanation than it felt possible to get out as events unfolded. These are issues which not only led to chaos and concern at the peak of the pandemic but may continue to cause uncertainty for anaesthetists in training during the next academic year and beyond. We plan to take each area in turn, beginning in this blog with recruitment.