Wits medical students implored to volunteer during the Covid-19 outbreak in SA

PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images
PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images

The University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), Johannesburg, is looking at ways in which their medical students will be able to help out in required fields as the country tackles the Covid-19 crisis.

A medical student at Wits tells DRUM that the university has sent out an email that contains forms students should fill in if they want to volunteer in.

Read more: Coronavirus: union to fight for doctor's right to safety

The idea of having medical students volunteer in hospitals is not new and is already being implemented in countries like Britain, where final-year students are being fast-tracked so they can join the workforce in time to contribute to the fight against the global pandemic.

The UK’s 42 medical schools were advised by the Medical Schools Council (MSC) that they should prioritise qualifying final-year students regardless of them having completed their clinical exams, The Guardian reported. The decision is to allow students to be provisionally registered by the General Medical Council (GMC) and begin working as doctors as soon as possible.

The letter to the schools from the MSC’s co-chairs and chief executive stated: “It is important that medical schools do not delay qualification and so prevent new doctors joining the workforce in the summer. We suggest that finals are simplified as far as possible, consistent with testing necessary learning objectives.”

Shabir A Madhi, professor of vaccinology at Wits, says curbing the spread of the virus will be no quick fix.

“We are likely to see an increase in number of hospitalisation over the course of the next 3-4 weeks, and right now the focus needs to be on leveraging on our existing human and facility resources,” he says.

He notes that students do have a role to play but “medical students cannot be fast-tracked as this poses a greater risk in the long term. Rather those in final year could be asked to volunteer to assist”.

Wits has actively started engaging with students to have an exact tally of those who would like to volunteer, says assistant dean: teaching and learning Professor Judith Bruce. “At the moment we are establishing who would be willing to volunteer.”

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