Original Research

Impact of COVID-19 – Experiences of 5th year medical students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

Andrew J. Ross
South African Family Practice | Vol 64, No 1 : Part 3| a5483 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/safp.v64i1.5483 | © 2022 Andrew J. Ross | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 22 December 2021 | Published: 14 June 2022

About the author(s)

Andrew J. Ross, Discipline of Family Medicine, School of Nursing and Public Health, College of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa


Background: The global pandemic associated with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) had a considerable effect on higher education in South Africa, with online instruction replacing traditional lectures for many students. Medical students were required to vacate their residences in March 2020 but returned to campus in July 2020 to enable them to continue with clinical teaching and learning. The aim of this study was to understand the learning experiences of 5th year medical students at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) during 2020.

Methods: This was a qualitative study conducted via Zoom in December 2020 with 18 students in four focus group discussions and four semi-structured interviews. These were all facilitated by an independent researcher with experience in qualitative research. All the interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed qualitatively through the identification of codes, categories and themes.

Results: The following major themes emerged: A stressful and at times an overwhelming year, mental health issues, developing strategies to cope, and issues that related to teaching and learning.

Conclusion: The disruptions caused by COVID-19, the lockdown, a condensed academic programme and uncertainty about their competency resulted in high levels of anxiety and stress among medical students. Participants highlighted strategies that had helped them to cope with the isolation and academic pressures. Given the large volume of work, careful thought needs to be given to what should be taught and how it should be taught to ensure that graduates have the competencies they need to practise.


COVID-19; learning; qualitative; stress and anxiety; resilience


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