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Behind the mask: The story of a Junior Doctor during COVID-19 2020

An Artist interview with NHS hero Arron Thind sharing his love of Oxford, visits to the Ashmolean and working on the frontline during COVID-19.

‘Particularly as someone from a British Asian background, I can understand the daunting prospect of going somewhere like Oxford for a secondary school student. However, my experience is that, no matter who you are or where you are from, Oxford is a place where you will certainly meet like-minded people, and gain positive, life-changing experiences from individuals that are entirely different from you. Overall, I cannot recommend the institution enough, and if you are thinking about stepping up to the plate and applying to Oxford, don’t let fear or anxiety stop you.’

As an Artist what has taking part in portrait for NHS heroes taught me?

I am grateful for the NHS and feel very lucky that our country has such an amazing free resource but as an Artist taking the time to get to know the individuals through the act of creating a portrait has given me a deeper perspective of just how much they sacrifice in order to keep us safe and well. Without it I wouldn’t really have thought too deeply about the individuals who put their lives on the line for others.

Why draw two portraits and an Oxford skyline?

Revealing the faces behind the masks feels very powerful which is why I felt I needed to have two faces of Arron. I really connected with the fact he studied in Oxford, he visited the Ashmolean (for the last 10 years I’ve delivered numerous arts events here and been fortunate enough to be part of their outstanding education programme) and Oxford University is in the forefront for researching and creating a vaccine.

Tom Croft who started this wonderful initiative is also based in Oxford. We are all much more connected than we think and when we think as a group with kindness and good intentions it makes for a happier and better society. Through Tom’s ‘Portraits for NHS Heroes’ he has brought together some incredible artists to immortalise our NHS and marking this time in history, never to be forgotten and forever appreciated.

Arron Thind is a junior doctor currently working in A&E at East Surrey Hospital and was keen to share his experiences with me. I’ve put this in a blog as I feel sure what he has to share will help other people understand what it’s like to be working as a Junior Doctor in the NHS during a global pandemic, his experiences of Oxford, as well as inspire new generations of students considering training in the medical profession.

What was it like living and studying in Oxford?

I loved Oxford and wish I could go back! The college environment at St Hugh’s was so unique and it was such a supportive, close-knit community. I enjoyed living with and getting to know people of different backgrounds, who are studying a range of subjects, an experience that is very different to many other universities. The college tutors are truly brilliant minds and there was so much to learn from them. At the same time, they were very sociable and we enjoyed the occasional formal dinner together, where we discussed not only academia but also life in general.

We both have a love of the collections at University of Oxford’s Ashmolean museum. Do you have a favourite exhibit?

One of my favourite exhibits at the Ashmolean are the displayed painted replicas of iconic classical statues. I learned that, based on microscopic evidence, Greek and Roman sculptures were originally painted in vivid and vibrant colours. The fact that colour plays an important role in the depiction of these works challenges the typical societal association of white marble with the beauty, strength and purity of classical gods and warriors. I believe this topic is worth reflecting on, especially in light of recent race-related events and injustice.’

In 2015 the Ashmolean had an exhibition in their cast gallery called GODS OF COLOUR

What inspired you to become a Doctor?

Whilst a lot of my colleagues were set on medicine since secondary school, I personally was never completely sure about my career plans. I felt that medicine would be an honest, prestigious job that was a practical use of my biology, chemistry and physics knowledge.

To be completely honest, in retrospect, I had no idea what it was really like being a doctor until I became one. Nevertheless, despite the ups and downs, I do enjoy my job, it keeps me on my toes, and I think it was the best decision that I made.

Can you describe a typical day working as a Junior Doctor?

Every day is different, and my experiences have taught me to be prepared for anything: I have treated patients with life-threatening medical conditions, reviewed patients requiring urgent surgery, managed mental health and social problems, and so much more.

The wide variation can make decisions tricky on a normal day, let alone with Coronavirus thrown into the mix. Fortunately, the department is extremely supportive, and seniors are always happy to assist’

How have you been coping during the COVID-19 crisis?

From the perspective of a junior doctor, the pandemic has been a frightening experience. I have seen seriously sick patients for whom there are no specific medical treatments, apart from respiratory support. The issue is brought closer to home by knowing colleagues that have been seriously unwell, and many more that have had affected friends or family members.

My first few days working in the ‘Hot zone’ of A&E were the most daunting. The ‘Hot zone’ is where we isolate potential COVID-19 patients to prevent transmission to other patients in the ‘Cold zones’.

Initially, it was gut wrenching to think my only protection against this potentially deadly virus was a pair of gloves, mask, apron and protective goggles. Fortunately, I have remained healthy and not become unwell.

Have there been any positive outcomes from this experience?

There are positives to take away from the situation. The unprecedented support from the public has been overwhelming, and I have never felt more valued as a doctor. Meanwhile, the crisis has united healthcare staff, and it feels fantastic to work in a department where there is such great camaraderie. Last, from an educational point of view, it has been interesting to observe the patterns of this novel disease, through its presentations, symptoms and investigation results.

What do you think we can learn from this crisis?

It is impressive to see how society and healthcare has adapted in response to the Coronavirus. I am optimistic that, together, we will get through the pandemic, and although, sadly, there will be many losses, it is at least comforting to know that the lessons we have learned from this crisis will benefit generations to come.

What plans do you have in the future? What do you aspire to as a Junior Doctor?

Many of the skills I have learned on the job have also helped me outside of the medical field. More recently, I learned to code in Java and have been developing apps for hospital trusts that I have worked at, such as an intravenous antibiotic dose calculator, and a mock computer patient record system to aid simulation training for doctors. My dream would be to create a digital-health start-up alongside my medical training.

Before this crisis had you ever considered having your portrait done?

No, this has been an entirely unique experience for me!

What has the experience of connecting with an artist and being part of Portraits for NHS heroes meant to you during this time?

It has been a privilege to be a part of the scheme. I have had the chance to get to know Amanda, and it has been an interesting opportunity to share experiences and perspectives from our respective fields. I am certain that, in years to come, the painting will remind my friends, family and I of the positives and generosity that arose from this terrible crisis. Thank you, Amanda.

Amanda Beck is taking part in the Artist Support Pledge


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