Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

4th year Oxford Medical School student Alex Grassam-Rowe’s writes on his admiration and respect for colleagues and others pulling together in the fight against COVID-19.

Emergency Department at the John Radcliffe Hospital

There were nervous discussions amongst us medics on placement where the first UK COVID-19 death was. Shortly after, normality gave way to the surreal.

A foundation doctor, barely a few years older than me, calmly told us where on the ward to not go as they were COVID ‘hot zones’. The other student and I shot each other looks of surprise. When I then attended the talk from the hospital Executive team, I was stunned further – the infamous management vs clinician dynamics had evaporated.

Overnight, we had become superfluous medical students on the frontline of a global pandemic. Us practising how to feel a tummy was redundant as our teachers were needed to treat those filling the ward. We all packed up, handed in our ID badges, and were bundled into shared cars. The security guard who I gave the ID badges to wished us luck back at the John Radcliffe, and I wished them luck here.

Upon return to Oxford, the collaborative spirit and bravery here impressed me greatly. Heeding our Division’s call for clinically trained staff, healthcare workers have returned to practice, and final year medical students joined in.

Within days our own community had begun the development of rapid and easy-to-use test kits, novel designs for ventilators, and vaccine trials – joining scientists across the globe helping to fight COVID.

As a fledgling ‘scientist’ I was used to certain timeframes – e.g. vaccines taking years, even decades, to get out. I know that through the dedication, mental effort, and hours of pipetting, our fantastic scientists are working tirelessly to reduce those timeframes to a matter of months to help protect those most vulnerable all around the globe.

Taken away from my placement and COVID hot spot wards, I’m instead sat typing this from my room in Oxford looking out over some hills. The disruption to my life is relatively minimal. SARS-CoV2 remains a concept; COVID another disease I now have to know the ins and outs of, but won’t know what it’s really like to treat someone with. This is now the responsibility and challenge facing our healthcare workers and scientists - our real-life heroes whom we owe so much.

And yet, I don’t feel helpless. Beyond those who can help on the ‘frontline’ in patient-facing roles, our wider community has risen to the challenge.

Medical Sciences students have been key in orchestrating community support networks, within the University and within Oxford – barriers of town and gown melting away. I have known heart scientists turn their hands to viral protein-drug interactions, medics turn to childcare, and I have seen our students, our SU, our Colleges, our Departments, our Divisions, our University, our wider community, have all come together. I hope that many years from now we can still recall the collaboration across all walks of life that helped see humanity through.

Whenever friends or family ask, I am proud to tell them with sincerity that work here in our Division is leading the fight for all of humanity. I have been struck by the courage, collaboration, and adaptability of healthcare workers around the world, and those supporting them. I can only hope my teachers, colleagues, and friends know how proud I am of them.

You are whom I envisioned when my younger self dreamt of becoming a doctor.

Similar stories

New Cochrane evidence highlights uncertainty about the interventions used to prevent and treat loss of smell after COVID-19 infection

Cochrane ENT at the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences has published two systematic reviews investigating the effectiveness and safety of interventions to prevent and treat loss of smell following COVID-19 infection.

Oxford’s researchers on the frontline

We rightly hear a lot about Oxford’s vaccine, Covid-19 research and RECOVERY drug trials, but there are also countless personal stories, which display just how broad Oxford’s response to the pandemic has been. It is the contribution and commitment of many individuals that has enabled Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division to become a global leader.

Cochrane ENT awarded NIHR funding for COVID-19 project

Cochrane ENT at the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences has been awarded funding by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to complete a suite of living systematic reviews investigating the effectiveness and safety of interventions to prevent and treat loss of smell after COVID-19 infection.

First peer-reviewed results of phase 3 human trials of Oxford coronavirus vaccine demonstrate efficacy

Today University of Oxford and AstraZeneca researchers present a pooled analysis of Phase 3 trials of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 across two different dose regimens, resulting in an average efficacy of 70.4%.

Oxford University breakthrough on global COVID-19 vaccine

The University of Oxford, in collaboration with AstraZeneca plc, today announces interim trial data from its Phase III trials that show its candidate vaccine, ChAdOx1 nCoV-2019, is effective at preventing COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) and offers a high level of protection.

Ambitious Oxford initiative launched to address graduate under-representation

Oxford University and its colleges today announced a major new scholarship scheme for Black graduate students as part of a programme to transform its graduate population by creating more funding opportunities for under-represented groups.

Blog posts

My virtual work experience with NDS and NDORMS

Louise Tan, a Year 12 student from Ballyclare in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, recently attended the joint NDS and NDORMS Virtual Work Experience. In this guest blog, Louise reflects on her experience.

Celebrating women of NDS

To celebrate 100 years since women were admitted as full members of the University and on the occasion of International Women's Day, a group of inspirational women in the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences (NDS) reflect on their journeys, their place in Medical Sciences and their vision for the next 100 years.

The life of a research nurse: supporting the Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine Trial

Research nurses in the NHS are playing a crucial role in helping to trial new coronavirus treatments and vaccines. Three NDS research nurses stepped up to help with the fight against this new disease. Here Bhumika Patel shares her experience of working on the Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine Trial.

Why I became a Peer Supporter

The Peer Support Programme was developed in recognition of the essential role students play in supporting and encouraging one another on a day-to-day basis throughout their time at university. NDS’ own Helen Stark discusses her experience of becoming a Peer Supporter.

Racism under the microscope

As Black History Month gets underway in the UK, NDS Athena SWAN Coordinator Emily Hotine puts racism under the microscope.