Czech medical students say giving a helping hand in COVID 19 crisis was“valuable experience”

Photo: ČTK / Vladimír Pryček

Thousands of Czech medical students pitched in to help during the coronavirus crisis in the Czech Republic. Some were called on by the government to perform mandatory service in state run hospitals, old age homes and emergency services, but the vast majority volunteered of their own accord, and now say the experience gained was invaluable.

Photo: ČTK / Vladimír Pryček

Barbora Vorlová is in her final year of medical school. She spent the past few weeks answering an info help line for the public operated by the Olomouc Faculty Hospital. Barbora is one of three and a half thousand students of medicine who pitched in to help when the coronavirus crisis broke out in March and the human resources of medical facilities were stretched to the limit.

The government asked several hundred students in their last year of medical school to perform mandatory service in state-run hospitals, old age homes and emergency services to ease the pressure on regular staff, but in reality an army of thousands of medical students pitched in to help.

Five and a half thousand medical students from faculties around the country applied to be involved in the effort, some still in their first and second year. Metoděj Renza, a medical student in his third year at Charles University’s Medical Faculty, coordinated the volunteer effort.

“Around three and a half thousand students in their last year of medical school were posted in hospitals where they were asked to sort patients who arrived, separating any suspect COVID cases from others, some helped out in hospital wards which were operating on a skeleton staff because doctors and nurses had either been infected or were quarantined. For some of them it was hands-on experience that helped them choose their future specialization in medicine. As far as was possible we tried to place them in wards related to their chosen field.”

Phot: ČTK / Václav Pancer
Štěpán Bartoš helped out in the Intensive Care Unit at St Anne’s Hospital in Brno, which was treating COVID 19 patients and does not regret the decision despite initial fears he could put his own family at risk.

“We risked it. There were many of us students who decided to risk it and the experience we gained was invaluable.”

Thousands of his peers conducted blood tests, questioned patients in a pre-selection process and served on info lines. Some helped out in old age homes where the infection spread like wildfire and some assisted teams who travelled to people’s homes to conduct tests, working in protective suits, respirators and face-shields.

Many were directly involved in the collective immunity study in which 26, 000 people from different regions, age groups and walks of life were tested for the virus. Ladislav Dušek, head of the Institute for Health Information and Statistics says their assistance was invaluable.

“Without the team of medical students we would never have managed to handle the operation as we did, including the digitization of a huge number of data conducted at great speed.”

As the epidemic declined, the student aid effort ended and some have now returned to their lectures, within the set restrictions. They say the unexpected “medical training” over and above the prescribed curriculum will serve them in good stead in their chosen profession.