At the beginning it was scary,
dealing with the unknown.

Back in March, Old Bradfieldian and Junior Doctor Mary Flynn (K 07-09) was getting ready to begin the next phase of her foundation programme, part of all newly-qualified doctors’ journeys which sees them gain initial experiences of working with patients and medical staff, following a four-month stint in A&E. Then COVID-19 struck.

As the first confirmed death from coronavirus was announced and Covid infections rapidly began to rise, that rotation was put on hold and she would remain in A&E as events quickly unfolded and the country went into lockdown.

Here, the University of Leicester graduate shares her experiences of working for the NHS on the frontlines at the peak of the virus with The Bradfiedian, from the lows of seeing the virus bring the country to a standstill to the highs of hospital teams coming together in the face of adversity.


“I was on a week of night shifts when it really began to take hold”, reflects Mary as she describes the early days of the pandemic.

“I remember being in my uniform ready to go to work, I’d already done one shift and it made me realise how bad it had suddenly got since the week before. I was dreading going to work that night because I had no idea what it would be like.”

Describing a typical shift, the scene she sets is exactly like the ones seen on television docu-drama 24 Hours in A&E.

“Initially it was scary. The phone would ring and we’d have seven minutes to prepare to receive a patient with suspected Covid.

“Suddenly you’re wearing a mask, a full gown, a visor, dealing with the uncomfortable heat of wearing full PPE and it’s just you and one nurse for fear of spreading it and taking out a whole medical team. We quickly became good at managing the situation.”

Her south-west London hospital was seeing a lot of Covid patients early on with varying degrees of complications brought on by the virus from people who had underlying health conditions to those who were otherwise fit and healthy, and even many from her own profession.

“We were seeing colleagues from GP practices and a lot of Senior Consultants in A&E got it. I’ve been really lucky. I was in such close contact with it constantly but I haven’t got ill.”

Those that did suffer more serious complications is something that Mary won’t quickly forget. “I saw young people in their 30s being intubated. That’s when you realize how serious it is.”


One of the best things about a career in healthcare is how rewarding it is and that goes beyond just helping the patients. Being part of a team that pulled together in the hardest of times is something Mary will never forget.

“For us, the challenge of adapting so quickly and being in it together, everyone from the doctors and nurses to the cleaners, porters and catering staff, meant we all got to know each other better.”




The virus has changed everything for hospitals. PPE, which Mary’s hospital were never short of despite widely reported supply issues elsewhere in the country, started off as just a set of gloves but quickly changed as the medical understanding of the virus evolved. Surgical masks quickly became the norm before it progressed from those and plastic aprons to full plastic masks with a seal as well as full gowns and visors.

“That has never stopped, you still wear that now for Covid patients. It’s having quite a big impact in two ways. For doctors you wear it for the whole 13-hour shift which can be quite restricting, but also for the patients. Communication is the hardest challenge. Particularly for many of the older patients who struggle to hear or need to lip read.”

At the end of the summer Mary began her specialism in Respiratory Medicine. It’s the beginning of an eight-year training programme, proving a career in the medical profession is absolutely an education for life. It is something she advises any Bradfieldian who is thinking about a medical career to be prepared for.

“Bradfield gave me the self-confidence and the support to get the top grades that I needed to pursue this career. It gave me more of an all-round perspective and the ability to balance multiple interests which is crucial in medicine.

“It’s also really important to have a different side to you other than just the academic side. Whether it is learning to be resilient through sports or finding a creative outlet, this profession can be all-consuming so it’s vital to have something that can give you a break.”


Even for those who have already left Bradfield it’s never too late.


Mary’s career might have been very different had she taken up a job offer from Deloitte after initially graduating from Bristol with a degree in Biology. Embarking on her Medical degree later wasn’t necessarily a bad thing though, on the contrary she says it gave her the experience and perspective needed to thrive in the job.

“I graduated when I was 27 and, if anything, I’d say you’re better coming into it later. I think if I had gone straight into it from Bradfield I would have felt a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility at 23. Even for those who have already left Bradfield it’s never too late.”