Meet Lucy Kirk: student by day, COVID-19 researcher by night

18 August 2020

ANU student by day, COVID-19 researcher by night. 

Meet Lucy Kirk: a final year medical student playing a key role in the University's and Canberra's COVID-19 efforts. Lucy has been working as a research assistant to Professor Imogen Mitchell, Director of the ANU Medical School and Clinical Director of the ACT COVID-19 Response. 

As part of her role, Lucy has been writing rapid evidence reviews to inform policy and practise responses to COVID-19. The demand for high-quality evidence reviews has meant Lucy's work has been used by local healthcare systems, and State and Federal Governments to inform their COVID-19 policy responses. 

Her involvement in the COVID-19 team has prompted Lucy to reflect on her original intentions for studying medicine. 

"I always wanted to end up in clinical medicine and doing research informed by clinical issues. This whole process has been a taste and insight into this world that I have always wanted to go into. This is one of the reasons I studied medicine in the first place - I love problem-solving and running through 100 different iterations to find the solution," Lucy said. 

As the pandemic has evolved, Lucy has had to write reviews on a range of topics, including how the health system could manage patient flow, the preservation of personal protective equipment and community mask use.  

"I start off with a sticky question - an issue we need to know more about or questions we need answered. I then go through the evidence, answering any questions by making summaries of the literature. 

"I love the breadth of the work. It is interesting because I get to work across lots of different areas. I love it all. It's a dream come true." 

Her work has earnt her praise from many practitioners. 

Professor Imogen Mitchell explained that, "Lucy has been instrumental in providing the ACT COVID-19's response with up to date and considered evidence. This has not only allowed the ACT's response to the global COVID-19 pandemic to be evidence based but also has provided the inspiration to what needs to underpin the future models of safe care at Canberra Health Services, namely up to date evidence" 

As a full-time medical student, Lucy has had to balance her role in the ANU College of Health and Medicine COVID-19 Evidence Team alongside her studies. 

 "As COVID-19 started happening, we were temporarily pulled off our placements. Around about the same time, I got the call asking if I could help with this COVID work. Whilst I was still doing all my online lectures, this was a great opportunity to put my studies into practice. 

"In the early days, it was long hours. When I got a topic, I would try and turn around the review within 48 hours. We needed to be working quickly to stay on top of the situation. It was a lot of Zoom meetings and rapid turnarounds." 

Now back on her final year placement and 10 weeks from her final exams, Lucy has been able to dedicate her time to fewer rapid evidence responses and more longer-term projects. In many of the projects she is working on, Lucy is often the youngest person in the Zoom. 

"During COVID-19, many people are working in roles they have never done before. As a student, I have had to be humble and recognise that I might not have the same experience as others in the room. At the same time, I have had to remember that my supervisors and colleagues have entrusted me with this work. It's important to take heart in that. 

"I have loved working with so many amazing people - clinicians, community members, lawyers and public advocates. I am hoping we can all continue to collaborate, listen and work together." 

When asked about what students should be doing during their undergraduate studies to set themselves up for opportunities, Lucy had many ideas.  

"First, an instrumental thing I did was research projects. This gave me an understanding of the research process and how to work with busy supervisors. 

"Next, it's important to build your reputation and credibility. Be diligent in all you do and get involved to get your name out there. 

"Finally, networking is important. Have the courage to approach people if you want to work with them." 

You can read more about the University's contributions to COVID-19 Research.