Facing COVID-19 as a medical student
By Padden Jones, UQ Year 3
I write this on the back of the news that most medical schools in Australia have suspended clinical placements for students due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The world is now facing the worst pandemic it has seen in 100 years, no one will remain untouched and we all have our parts to play. I wanted to give my perspective as a Medical student and what I believe our role should be in the war against COVD-19.
When I heard the news that UQ was suspending placements I was heartbroken. I had just gone on lunch while undergoing the fourth week of my GP placement. As it was my second placement in my clinical years, I was remittent to have it ceased. I was finally getting to do what all med student dream of, actually practicing what we read in textbooks. The team of the Brisbane-based practice I was at were lovely and I really felt like part of it. I had the pleasure of taking histories from patients and helping come up with management plans for them.
Once I’d gotten the news that all that had abruptly stalled, I was saddened at first. I wanted it to not be real but the reality was that it was happening and there was cause for it. Society’s health is more important than placement. However, this got me thinking, “What are they going to do with us med students? We must have a part to play, it’s what we have been training for.”
As a person who enjoys being busy and having goals to achieve, the thought of isolation and slowly running out of things to do was terrifying. The decay of my routine and the follow on of my mental health coinciding with that is one of the main things I wanted to avoid. So, I’ve tried to fill my days with an array of different activities. I figured why not try and turn this into an opportunity to learn new skills and perfect the old. So I have my guitar tuned, a reading list prepped, my suturing pads ready, I’ve emailed a bunch of researches to see if there is the opportunity to help with a project and a whole selection of new podcasts to listen to (as well as a relisten to our own podcast, Junior Doctor’s Corner!).
I have heard a few different perspectives on the role of med students in what is to come. Some students do not want to be involved, for reasons such as not wanting to be put at risk of infection, not wanting to potentially putt loved ones in danger of being infected and finally those that just believe that we will be in the way. Then there are those who want to be involved and use it as a potential learning opportunity and to help wherever possible. My opinion on this is a complex one, and I do not envy those who have to make the decision as to involve medical students in the COVID-19 fight. This is a situation that our current health system has never experienced, and hopefully we will never experience it again.
I feel the decision to be involved should be a voluntary one as not everybody’s circumstances are the same. When we take the declaration of Geneva/the Hippocratic oath it should not be one taken in jest. From that point on we have an obligation to both our patients and society to be beneficent and to practice non-maleficence at all costs in any going on of our lives. However, our health should also be taken as a priority, as a doctor in poor health cannot help anyone.
Medical students should, if they are able to do so and without putting those vulnerable at a greater risk, assist where possible. As a group of people who have a high health literacy and an array of other valuable skills, we would make for a valuable resource. Now some medical students may not be comfortable or have the clinical skills to help without feeling like a burden in such a chaotic clinical setting. These students might be better suited to assisting with Telehealth consults. Those who are capable should assist but they should be given access to appropriate PPE if available. For those who have the privilege of these opportunities and yet wish to remain removed from the care process entirely from risk to themselves, I bid them reconsider their career choice. The medical field is one of many risks to both doctor and patients, I would remark is as unethical and immoral to set aside our obligations in the time of greatest need. Helping those who need it is why we become doctors and why the medical field is held in such high regard. It is going to be a team effort to beat COVID19.
Make the most of this while it’s possible. Learn new skills, try new things, and try to live life as close to normal as possible. Stay safe, whether you are at work or in isolation, take care of your body and mind.