University of Bristol: Exhibition depicts first year medics’ trials and triumphs during pandemic

Our First Year Heard’ includes drawings, photos, digital art and poems from students at the University of Bristol.

Medicine is a demanding course that attracts some of the brightest students from the UK and around the world. The pandemic brought new pressures for the trainee medics, with Government restrictions forcing lectures – and friendships – online.

“Medicine students support each other through the tough times,” said Louis Davenport, a now-second year medicine student who curated the exhibition. “Over five years you get to know each other really well and those friendships help you through – that’s more difficult when you are confined to your room.”

New ways of studying during the pandemic were reflected in many of the pieces, as was self-care, lockdown isolation, imposter syndrome and mental health.

Louis came up with the idea following his first dissection class, just before the autumn 2021 lockdown.

“Suddenly I was looking at a brain, then a torso,” he explained. “I had a really visceral reaction that I wasn’t expecting. It was a really complex feeling that I wanted to capture in poetry.”

The poem, entitled ‘What’s in front of you’, sparked Louis to ask fellow first year medics for their experiences.

Our First Year Heard features more than 20 pieces. One, a collage by Katy Glenn, focused on her ‘uplifting experience’ volunteering in a vaccine clinic, around people from all different ages and backgrounds.

‘Disconnected’, a poem and video by a group of students, captured virtual GP placements and the lack of the “many subtle yet fundamental elements of communication and non-verbal body language” that can be important during these appointments.

Together, the pieces represent a year of students’ trials and triumphs under difficult circumstances. Perhaps most surprising is how impressive the individual pieces of art are, from students who mostly spent their last years of schooling studying science subjects.

“I was stunned by the quality – not just of the art but of the introspection put into the descriptions of why they made their pieces,” Louis said.

“I hope our first year will make us better doctors and more resilient. I think it’s going to produce a different skillset, one that is better equipped for digital consultations.”

Ashley Blom, Head of Bristol Medical School, said: “I continue to be amazed by the breadth of skills of our students. Their ability to express their thoughts and emotions through such evocative art is beautiful.”

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