- On May 6, 2020
- May / June 2020
Australia’s success in flattening the curve has curtailed recruitment to bolster the health workforce, but final year medical students are ready, if needed, to meet future pandemic demand.
AUSTRALIA’S MEDICAL students are altruistic, ready for challenges, and possess clinical experience, which makes them ideal candidates to bolster the healthcare workforce response to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been an appetite to utilise our near-future doctors and employ their existing knowledge and skillset to assist in this unprecedented time, and health services and universities have responded accordingly.
NSW final year medical students will be vetted by their universities and employed by LHDs where they have completed their clinical rotations, inaugurated as “Assistants in Medicine” under a standardised role created by the Ministry of Health. These new workers would be embedded in non-COVID facing teams to relieve JMOs that have been reallocated or are otherwise unavailable. They will work under the supervision of senior clinicians in existing clinical teams, performing everyday tasks such as writing discharge summaries, clinical sample collections, and communicating with multidisciplinary teams.
An overwhelming majority of students expressed their interest in these roles. Alongside an earnest desire to help, students opting-in to be a part of the program recognise the opportunity for experiential learning; to gain and hone clinical skills through the intimate guidance of learned senior clinicians. Globally, the recruitment of medical students, whether fast-tracked as doctors or given employment in their final year, reflects the severity of the pandemic in their respective regions. While in Australia the current trend of the curve flattening may diminish our role, we cannot predict the changing nature of this pandemic.
There is a current spotlight on our healthcare system, and the competencies of final year medical students are to be scrutinised and publicised. Though with strong assurances for student protections in place, we do not predict a trial by fire, rather a safe environment to apply and explore gaps in clinical knowledge. Students’ key concerns are pertaining to safety, supervision, support, and to their continued education. Commendation must be given to the relevant bodies, including the Ministry of Health, universities, and Medical Deans for their open communication with student bodies to address those concerns.
The collaboration between universities and hospitals towards a shared custody model of students is a valuable foundation for future advancements in clinical education. The recruitment of a final year medical student workforce is unprecedented, and the benefits of this model towards the education of final year medical students beyond years affected by COVID-19 will be closely examined.
Though students’ risk of exposure remains low, there remains an acute awareness of the risks to all clinicians during this time. It highlights the reality that we are not invincible, and the inherent risks of our career choice, for ourselves and our loved ones. We do not envy the doctors and other health professionals that are at the front-line of this battle. As much as we are excited and humbled by this opportunity, we hope that this will be, as they say, a once in a lifetime experience.
Contributed by Alice Shen
President, NSW Medical Students’ Council