Paulina Birula, a 2020 graduate from Poznań University of Medical Sciences, had a full and busy life and schedule as an Executive Board member of the International Federation of Medical Students’ Association (IFMSA) while finishing her last year of medical school. When COVID-19 disrupted everyday life in the spring of 2020, Birula quickly had to adapt to a whole new personal and professional reality.
What Was Your Schedule Like Before COVID-19?
Before COVID times, I was dividing my time between medical university and the IFMSA. This time was full of preparations for my final exams, but also different travels, team meetings, workshops, and conferences that I was participating in. I would say a lot of those times I was abroad, and then when I was back in Poland, I was attending my classes again. My calendar was full every day. I had already planned an internship abroad in France right after finishing my medical studies, which unfortunately didn’t take place because of COVID and all the implications it had.
How Did COVID Impact Your Academics?
It definitely decreased my motivation to study. I used to go to the library to read and focus, but all those places were closed. All of my classes in the hospital were canceled. It was a time full of uncertainty about what would come next in the university, when the exams would be, and if we would be able to pass everything on time.
I also need deadlines. I like having everything planned and scheduled. I like knowing exactly when I’m taking which exam. The moment I didn’t know made it hard for me to plan everything and motivate myself to study. Luckily, the university gave us a new schedule quickly, but still having to study in my room by myself without going to the hospital was way more difficult than attending classes.
I also had a lot of responsibilities related to the university, the IFMSA, and other commitments. Because of that, I used to have everything planned in advance to know what I needed to start with my responsibilities. For example, my schedule included when I needed to prepare for the exams and when I was going somewhere. That whole schedule was useless at some point because all the meetings were canceled. I felt a little bit lost without my time blocked.
Outside of School, How Did You Have to Adjust to Life During COVID?
I love traveling, so that was something helping me with my busy, pre-COVID schedule. Even if I had a lot of things to do, knowing that I had another conference or workshop scheduled and other plans helped me keep my motivation to go through medical school and complete my other responsibilities. The fact that all the meetings were canceled, or moved to an online setting, definitely impacted my motivation in general. Also, the fact that I would not be able to see many of my friends, who live in different corners of the world, was difficult. I’m still looking forward to the moment when I will be able to meet up with at least some of them.
Of course, in the students’ organization I was working with, we had so many plans for the year. We were expecting to attend many conferences and high-level meetings, organize our own events, and host a lot of workshops. We were supposed to do things that will help build capacity among medical students and serve the local community. These plans couldn’t happen, at least not in the original format, which was a bit disappointing.
What are Some of the Ways You Overcame the Struggles of COVID?
When the universities closed, students became more responsible than ever for their learning processes, and at this point I started incorporating online platforms into my studying routine more. Lecturio was one of the resources I was using and I really regret that I didn’t discover it in my previous years of studying. What I like about Lecturio was the fact that all medical content was covered with video lectures. In the moments in which my motivation was low, it was easier for me to just press play to listen to the lecture. Later on, if I had to do some extra reading or some extra research, it was a small step to help me to start acquiring some new knowledge. Definitively, Lecturio was one of the platforms that helped me most.
I was also using one platform for studying specifically for the Polish Medical Final Examination, the most important exam I had to take after graduation. With both of these platforms, I could complete my knowledge.
What was important for me was the support from people around me and the fact that we could use various platforms to have video calls to keep in touch with each other. We planned work parties, as we were calling them, to fulfill our responsibilities or study together, which was a great help.
One time, we had a call to study together and we didn’t really talk but I had my camera on and when I saw all of my friends doing their work, I felt the peer pressure to also focus on my responsibilities.
The fact that I have many friends who are also very open to discussing how they feel and that we could share our struggles together was also helpful. Definitely having the support group was a big blessing in this time.
How has COVID-19 changed your med school routine?
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