Being a medical intern in the public health sector within the context of a pandemic has reminded Dr Ann van Staden that there is no other job she would rather be doing.Dr Ann van Staden never expected to be faced with a pandemic during her first year as a medical intern at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto.

Van Staden, 28, is a recent graduate of the Wits School of Clinical Medicine. She is passionate about giving back to the people of South Africa through working in the public health sector. 

As the pandemic continues, medical interns find themselves under pressure as they rotate through medical, obstetrics, paediatric, surgery, anaesthetic, psychiatry and family medicine departments for three months at a time, to pick up the necessary experience and get a feel for their specialty as doctors.   

“I’m currently in obstetrics now so mummies are giving birth and nobody can come. They’re going in for C-section and they don’t exactly have the pyjamas they need or anything so it’s quite sad,” said the Eldorado Park resident who lives with her partner and grandmother. 

Before the number of Covid-19 cases increased in South Africa, van Staden explains that visiting hours at the hospital had already been curtailed and are now completely banned. Staff were briefed about preventative measures, the use of masks and increased personal hygiene. Tents have also been set up outside of the hospital for screening staff and anyone entering the building. 

Currently, all medical interns are on standby to join the designated Covid-19 team at Baragwanath, should case numbers spike. As Baragwanath is an academic hospital, the medical interns are supervised by specialists in every department that they rotate through while completing their stipulated number of practice hours. 

The first few months of working at the hospital were so challenging that it regularly moved van Staden to tears. But, she told Wits Vuvuzela, that this specific period has helped her to develop a newfound respect for her job, emphasising the importance of doctors to their patients and society. 

“I also do realise that I am human and I do get tired and I do get frustrated in terms of resources, like resource restrictions, but I also now know that there’s no other job I would rather want to be doing,” she said.

Dealing with anxiety and stress has been something that she has tackled by committing herself to improving in her work and she is encouraged by helping others. 

“I always still felt inadequate, the inadequacy always lingers. I’m always reminded by patients when they get discharged, they smile and say, ‘thank you so much for helping me doctor’, that I’m not here by chance so that definitely makes it better.”

Her sensitivity to the issues that patients face was evident, as van Staden was conscious of the challenges that go beyond the virus spreading. She was concerned about the victims of gender-based violence and children being abused, with the exposure to abusers being intensified in many homes during lockdown. 

“I think to also always remember that a patient is more than their disease. They have a cultural background, emotions and social circumstances so when treating patients it is beyond the disease. You need to look at everything else in order to fully, analytically, manage patients correctly,” van Staden said. 

Van Staden advises medical professionals in training to continue educating themselves throughout their practical work, as she reads up on coronavirus and goes over her final year notes frequently. The first to qualify as a doctor in her family, she has found herself having to reaffirm her original dream to be a doctor, even during challenging moments.

“For this pandemic I don’t think that I am fully ready so as a doctor you can never know enough and so I find myself reading a lot.”

FEATURED IMAGE: Dr van Staden on the day of her graduation in December 2019. Photo: Courtesy Dr van Staden.