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Covid-19: medical students to be employed by NHS

BMJ 2020; 368 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.m1156 (Published 20 March 2020) Cite this as: BMJ 2020;368:m1156

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Covid-19: The role of Medical Students within their Local Community

Dear Editor,

Medical students across the UK have experienced a large change in the structure of our medical training due to the suspension of clinical rotations. This has resulted in thousands of medical students across the country, at a loose end, with a moral obligation to help but insufficient clinical experience to be exposed to the wards.

This article focusses primarily on final year medical students who have been fast-tracked into the workforce to relieve pressure within the NHS (1).

Whilst final year students may have found a role within this pandemic, there is a distinct lack of guidance and coordination of medical students in early clinical years, in determining what our role could be during this crisis.

It has been widely reported that there is anxiety throughout the NHS regarding the potential lack of availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as the number of Covid-19 cases increases (2). It is therefore of upmost importance that PPE should only be used by essential personnel and whilst junior medical students feel they would like to help on the wards, at this stage it is not a sensible use of this scarce resource.

However, what this article doesn’t cover, is how medical students can be utilised within the safety of their own home and local community (1).

General Practitioners (GPs) are now shifting to remote consultations via telephone or video as a new way of interacting with Covid-19 patients (3). Covid-19 consultations are likely to occupy the majority of a GP’s time, accompanied by an increase in GP absenteeism, there is little time left for those vulnerable patients within the community who have chronic diseases.

Therefore, we propose a country-wide coordination of GP surgeries, to utilise medical students in clinical years (3rd-5th year) to perform telephone consultations from their own home. Whether this involves chronic illness check-ups or contacting vulnerable patients within the community. For example, patients with asthma require frequent GP check-ups and it is absolutely critical during this Covid-19 crisis that their condition is even more closely monitored than usual. Surely this is an ideal opportunity for medical students, following well-established algorithms of care, to alleviate some of the burdens that our general practitioners are facing.

Medical students will not be facing the same time constraints as a busy practitioner, so in addition to monitoring chronic conditions, medical students can also play an important role in providing a point of contact for isolated, vulnerable and lonely members of the community.

This potential opportunity to work safely in the healthcare setting will enable medical students to enhance their learning and fulfil their desire to have an important clinical role in helping the NHS deal with this unprecedented world-wide pandemic.

References:
1. Mahase E. Covid-19: medical students to be employed by NHS as part of epidemic response. BMJ [Internet]. 2020 Mar 20;368:m1156. Available from: http://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m1156

2. Mahase E. Covid-19: hoarding and misuse of protective gear is jeopardising the response, WHO warns  BMJ [Internet] 2020 Mar; 368 :m869. Available from: https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m1156

3. Greenhalgh Trisha, Koh Gerald Choon Huat, Car Josip. Covid-19: a remote assessment in primary care. BMJ [Internet] 2020 Mar; 368 :m1182. Available from https://www.bmj.com/content/368/bmj.m1182

Competing interests: No competing interests

27 March 2020
Hannah V Gleeson
Medical Student, University of Sheffield
Horsley C, Poskitt L, Ells C, Pearson G
University of Sheffield, Beech Hill Rd, Broomhall, Sheffield S10 2RX