Covid-19: medical schools are urged to fast-track final year studentsBMJ 2020; 368 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1064 (Published 16 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m1064
All rapid responses
I read with great interest the recent article by Gareth Iacobucci on the impact of COVID-19 on medical students (1).
Placement cancelled; clinical examinations postponed; graduation postponed and an elective cut-short to top it off. COVID-19 has been quite a shock to the system for medical students who are usually inundated with assessments, signoffs and the anxiety of upcoming exams. Therefore, it is no wonder that we’re currently feeling confused, helpless and apprehensive over what’s in store over the coming months.
Cardiff University School of Medicine has released a series of online surveys to compile a list of 3rd/4th year medical students who would be willing to volunteer in aid of the COVID-19 crisis within NHS Wales. The potential activities include clinical work, administrative/ telephone triage, childcare/ pet-care for NHS staff and community assistance. Thus far, this initiative has had an overwhelming response. There are calls on social media for students to help out in their local areas, and Facebook groups such as ‘Helping Hands’ are currently very popular. Medical students eagerly await to offer support whilst ensuring their clinical competence and practical skills are up to scratch in time for upcoming foundation jobs.
With the enthusiasm lies an underlying level of worry - i.e. regarding the availability of personal protective equipment, presence of appropriate supervision and ensuring tasks are within an individual’s clinical competence. If students are to be ‘fast-tracked’ such concerns may be combatted by ensuring students are assigned a manageable number and length of shifts per week (avoiding stress), are asked to complete tasks in pairs or small groups (allowing for teamwork and cross-checking) and allocating activities which match those included in the curriculum for medical students. Whether students are being asked to ‘fast-track’ and provide clinical care or participate in childcare, their own health and safety must of course be the utmost priority.
There has also been some disruption to lectures and teaching timetables. There has been a shift towards using online platforms to provide interactive lectures and written finals are to be completed online. As placements have been cut-short, students have been unable to complete rotations in certain specialties and risk losing valuable time in a clinical environment. It will be interesting to note the true effect of this, and whether virtual methods of delivering medical education will be successful in achieving the desired learning outcomes. It seems that the skills required for self-directed learning (which is greatly advocated within our Medicine course) will be extremely useful.
The situation is rapidly evolving, and it will be intriguing to see whether medical students can lend a ‘helping hand’ with the efforts of this pandemic. However, only time will tell whether the logistics of this can be successfully implemented over the coming weeks. I hope I will be able to assist the healthcare staff at my local trust before accepting a free coffee from Pret A Manger.
1. Iacobucci Gareth. Covid-19: medical schools are urged to fast-track final year students. BMJ 2020; 368 :m1064.
Competing interests: No competing interests
As mentioned, the decision to fast-track final year medical students is not one to be taken lightly. But from the perspective of a fifth year medical student, we can recognise that this would be a logical decision in this unique circumstance.
A large number of final year medical students across the country have already sat their final exams and OSCEs at the end of their fourth year, while the remainder have attained most if not all of their knowledge of the core medical curriculum by this point. Final year tends to be constructed of assistantship placements where the students mainly shadow the F1 to prepare for their rotations in the upcoming year along with passing the national examinations, which have already taken place.
Therefore, it would not be detrimental to the learning of final year medical students to fast track them, as they should be prepared by this point anyway to fulfil the role of an F1, more or less. However, a large number of students are likely to miss out on any time off including the elective period, where many go abroad, which now is not possible due to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation. There would have to be an allocated time frame for these soon-to-be F1s to take time off and be given the opportunity to travel and do other things, if their summer is to be robbed of them.
Competing interests: No competing interests