The coronavirus omicron variant is currently surging in Denmark. Even as we write this, we’re experiencing about 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 daily in a country of 5.5 million. Here’s some insight into how it is to be a young ophthalmologist (YO) in our small country.
We faced a nationwide lockdown in December 2020 which lasted exactly two weeks. But the repercussions of the spread of COVID-19 lasted much longer. Nationwide, mandatory courses that were part of our residency programs were postponed or rearranged as online lectures, any attendance in conferences or meetings were banned, and all meetings within the department were changed to online meetings. Nonemergent elective surgeries were postponed. Outpatient services remained largely unchanged, but we now perform slit-lamp examinations wearing large protective shields and face masks at all times and clean the room and equipment thoroughly in between patient visits. Some YOs were sent to help in testing clinics and dedicated COVID-19 care units.
Another aspect of education that was affected by the pandemic was surgical training. Surgical training programs were interrupted and delayed, leading to fragmented and prolonged training programs. This was due to the lockdown, cancellation of elective cases and rescheduling of patients.
A New Normal
Most of the restrictions and bans were lifted when the infection rates normalized and as the vaccination rate rose during 2021.
Some things remain unchanged and will likely remain unchanged, even if COVID-19 goes away: large slit-lamp protection shields remain installed on our slit-lamps andour habit of intensive cleaning in between visits also continues.
During the initial lockdown, many visits, especially post-operative visits, were performed over the telephone. It has since proven to be as safe and far more efficient than in-person visits. Similarly, we have learned to embrace the benefits of planning meetings and courses as hybrid meetings with the opportunity to participate without being physically present.
These challenges we experienced have taught us how to deal with new COVID-19 waves.
Courses and meetings were planned with hybrid models in advance and swiftly changed to online-only events. Large protective shields on slit lamps were already installed, face mask use was already routine for both patients and staff, and our outpatient services remained largely unchanged. All staff undergo COVID testing twice weekly. The YOs are no longer allocated to testing clinics or COVID-19 care units, since the staffing in such facilities are now in place. Nonemergent surgeries are no longer postponed on a large scale, and training of YOs are no longer delayed.
Although the surge of the omicron variant does provide some challenges, previous restrictions and lockdown have prepared us well to cope adequately and avoid further delay in our training.
Someday, as situations change, we may need to go back to lockdown or lockdown-like situations. But there were some important lessons that we learned in the face of this adversity. We have learned to grab every opportunity to hygge (Danish for the feeling of wellness/a form of everyday togetherness) and spend time with friends and colleagues.
||About the authors: Adam Elias Brøndsted, MD, PhD, is staff specialist at the Department of Ophthalmology at Rigshospitalet and president of Foreningen af Yngre Oftalmologer (FAYO), which is the Danish society of young ophthalmologists and the world's oldest society of young ophthalmologists. Morten Bøgelund Larsen, MD, is a senior resident at the Department of Ophthalmology at Odense University Hospital and board member of FAYO. Yousif Subhi, MD, PhD, is resident at the Department of Ophthalmology at Rigshospitalet and Furesø Eye Clinic, a board member of FAYO and associate professor at University of Southern Denmark.