‘Our First Year Heard’ – curating the experiences of first-year medical students during the COVID-19 pandemic



By Louis Davenport, Medical Student, Bristol Medical School, University of Bristol

My name is Louis Davenport, and I am a second-year medical student at the University of Bristol. I am the organiser of ‘Our First Year Heard’, a student art collection showcasing the effects of COVID-19 on first-year medical students.

The seed of the idea came from an extremely intense, one might say uncomfortable, experience that I had in the dissection room in my first year at medical school. While I am not particularly artistic myself, I made use of poetry to help process the experience and wrote several drafts of what would become What’s in front of you. From there I thought, why not collect the experiences of first-year medical students who might similarly wish to share them with other medical students and the wider public? Capturing the unique experiences of people who had their first year under the pandemic would, I thought, produce a more focused collection, so I pressed on.

I approached my Whole Person Care tutor, who put me in touch with Catherine Lamont-Robinson, the creative director of Out Of Our Heads, an online gallery of creative works exploring the interface between medicine and the arts. We worked together to collect pieces over the spring and summer of 2020. Using what spare time I could find, I curated the submissions and personally spoke to every student submitting to make sure they were happy to have their pieces included.

The project took a year to complete, which taught me a lot about patience and the realities of working with a large number of contributors. However, because of the wide range of contributors’ experiences, I was lucky enough to have fantastic work submitted in a variety of media, from poems to sculpting, tackling many aspects of first-year student life under lockdown.

The focus of the exhibition was to capture the feelings connected with experiences in the moment, rather than relying on a retrospective view of events. In a way, it was an effort to make the most out of what was, in effect, a natural experiment – with education suddenly shifting to online only – and seeing what effect that had on the students. This is a valuable aspect, I think, for educators to reflect on when looking at the collection.

As an important part of the ‘visitor’ experience, we wanted to encourage people to comment on and engage with the pieces presented. We have already had some wonderful comments and look forward to many more!

A diverse collection

There are over 20 different pieces in the collection. Each student was invited to add a commentary about their piece. Here are just two examples to give you a flavour of some of the contributions.

‘Volunteering at a Vaccine Clinic’

Volunteering at a Vaccine Clinic by Katy Glenn is a reflection on her time as a volunteer at a vaccine clinic during lockdown. It wonderfully expresses the diversity of the patients and the value of the experience as a learning opportunity. Her commentary elaborates on the joy she experienced meeting patients for the first time in an in-person clinical setting.

Image of art work 'Volunteering at a Vaccine Clinic' - a collage depicting patients waiting to be vaccinated.
Volunteering at a Vaccine Clinic by Katy Glenn

‘Desk Day’

Desk Day by Ellie Harrison presents a consequence of the pandemic that many medical students experienced: the migration of primary and secondary care placements from face-to-face to online. With medicine digitising, it’s valuable to have some perspective on the frustrations with the limitations of current technology’s ability to facilitate remote consultations. Ellie’s piece stands alone without commentary, a bold choice that encourages you to draw your own conclusions about the piece itself.

Image of art work by Ellie Harrison depicting a scene of a hospital with patients on a trolley viewed through a computer screen.
Desk Day by Ellie Harrison












‘Our First Year Heard’ is live at: https://outofourheads.net/2021/11/12/our-first-year-heard-ofyh/. We welcome further comments and discourse on the exhibition and pieces.

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