​”Experiences of working in Psychiatry during Covid-19″ – Dr Henmar Botha

Dr Henmar Botha started the MMed (Psych) programme in July 2017. He completed his MBChB at the University of the Free State in 2011, his two year internship at the Pietermaritzburg Hospital Complex, and his community service at Phekolong Hospital, Bethlehem. He has held Medical Officer posts at both Karl Bremer (2015-2016) and Stikland (2016-2017) hospitals.

Dr Botha’s hobbies include exploring the Cape culinary scene, hiking, reading, and had interests in many different sports.



Who knew that the start of the decade would turn out to be such a precarious time? 2020 – the year of the Tokyo Olympic Games, the WHO’s year of the nurse and midwife (and how relevant this has been), and the year that I was supposed to write my Part II exams. From initial indifference when China felt very far away, to facing the unknown and putting measures in place for the inevitable tsunami, until dealing with the chronicity of it all, working in psychiatry during Covid-19 has been interesting to say the least. As with many other medical disciplines, we have had to rearrange our work environment and the way we think about patient care. Adjustments were made to the functioning of our outpatient and inpatient units, as well as coping with the ever-changing Covid-19 guidelines.

I am still adjusting to social distancing and this has not yet become second nature – from  academic teaching over Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and essentially zero contact with peers, to the adjustments on a clinical level and the effects on patient care (for instance more difficult to establish rapport with a paranoid patient while wearing a mask). I have spent most of my COVID time working in one of the male acute wards at Stikland Hospital. Working in psychiatry means we are face to face with the humanitarian crisis of the pandemic. Our patients are people with families, jobs, responsibilities, expectations, concerns, hopes and fears and on top of that might have a serious mental illness. I have been fortunate to work with an excellent multidisciplinary team and it has been a privilege to help our patients during this unique time. I want to thank the leadership groups at Stikland and Tygerberg hospitals for their assured leadership, guidance and support. This has made it much easier to deal with the uncertainty of the situation.

On a personal level it has also been a challenge to get used to the idea of the postponed Part II exams, as I was planning to sit the exam in July 2020. The postponement to January 2021 has forced me (along with the unpredictability of an infant at home) to be more adaptable, flexible and to embrace the unpredictability of life.

Uncertainties remain, not knowing when things will normalise, or whether this is the “new normal” – I feel that our “COVID work” is far from over. The pandemic has brought with it numerous social, psychological and behavioural challenges, and with a likely harsh aftermath on the horizon, our work has just begun. With that being said I firmly believe that we as a department are more than up for the challenge!