Blog: Should medical students be volunteering? #MedStudentCovid

Published: 28 March 2020 By Connor Dibblin Intercalating Medical Student @BecomingaDr Team Do medical students have a moral duty to volunteer? What support, advice or help is available to medical students wanting to help? What are other medical students already doing? The Medical Schools Council has released a publication outlining their requirements for the support provided to medical students by their medical schools. They make clear that (for now) it is entirely optional for medical students to volunteer, and they will not be penalised if they don’t. They repeatedly state that the main priority for all medical students not graduating this year should be continuing their studies. It is vital that we all look after our own health by always wearing appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment), and it is recommended that you don’t volunteer if you or someone in your household is vulnerable to the virus. I will be joining the Becoming A Doctor Team at 6.00pm (GMT) on Sunday 29th March for their #MedStudentCovid Twitter conversation. We will be discussing what medical students can do to help during the Covid-19 crisis, how to get involved from isolation or in person, and what we can be doing to continue our own education.   My university has promised to replace all the scheduled teaching from mid-March to the end of the academic year with online content. These will take the form of webinars, narrated slides and recordings from past years. However, some intercalation courses have yet to receive any new content. It is looking more likely that content which hadn’t been taught before mid-March will be omitted from the exams, and exams themselves will be delivered online. How has your medical school made up for lost teaching and exams? What can you do as a medical student? Weeks ago, while the decisions regarding childcare for healthcare professionals were still to be made, a friend and colleague at King’s started a Facebook group connecting medical students with healthcare staff in order to offer childcare support. With the current lockdown, arrangements such as this are no longer viable. However, I am sure the group will be repurposed to help healthcare workers in some other way, so watch this space. Here is the south London (King’s deanery) Group. I know that numerous other groups have sprung up since including in Bristol, Sheffield, Durham and Edinburgh. Volunteer with the NHS GoodSAM is recruiting ‘an army’ of volunteers to help the NHS. They are mainly looking for transport staff to help transport patients and equipment, community response volunteers to help deliver shopping or medication to vulnerable people and ‘Check-in and Chat’ volunteers to speak to isolated individuals. Before you sign up for this service, I would advise reading the MSC publication to get an understanding of the support that should be offered by the trust and by your medical school. Local GPs Some local GP practices are severely short on staff, with up to 50% of their staff off for sickness. They will be recruiting medical students on either a paid or volunteer basis to help cover phones and receptions. These will be predominantly non-clinical, administrative roles. Clinical work It would probably be inappropriate for non-clinical medical students to be taking on clinical work or volunteering. You should not take on any work that you are not competent and comfortable undertaking. This means if you haven’t been taught to do it, and you aren’t going to be taught to do it for the role, don’t do it. You should not be asked to carry out the duties of a doctor, as the GMC stated in their advice. All volunteering is on a voluntary basis, so you shouldn’t be pressured by anyone into doing it. The BMA has made it very clear in their advice for medical students  that:
  • You have made the decision voluntarily to undertake the work in the NHS pre-qualification and there has been no obligation or imposition of the work
  • You must not be asked to work beyond your competencies, and you must always be adequately supervised, where supervision is required
  • You must be provided with adequate personal protective equipment and with full instruction on how to use it.
The BMA has also advised all medical students to avoid starting employment with the NHS under uncertain terms until the BMA has agreed a national contract framework. For final year medical students, this includes the creation of ‘FY0’ and ‘Pre-FY1’ roles on a local level, which the BMA is not supporting. For more information, follow these links to contact the BMA, MSC or GMC. I blog about medical school admissions, life as a medical student and medical news on my website. You can get in touch with me through Twitter or Instagram. ----- Hope to speak to some of you for the national medical student  twitter event! on Sunday 29th March 2020 at 18 00 GMT! You can join using the hashtags: #MedStudentCovid and #BecomingaDr   Twitter link here.      Facebook event here
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Elliot is a St George’s graduate currently working as an F1 Doctor in East London. As the first in his family to apply to university, Elliot is well aware of the barriers that can be faced in trying to get to medical school. He is passionate about widening access to medicine for underrepresented groups.
 He was the representative for St George’s on the BMA Medical Students Committee, and has done lots of work with local schools and colleges to raise awareness of medicine as a career, as well as working on admissions policies with the widening participation team St George’s. Elliot is part of the @BecomingaDr outreach team and National Health Careers Conference Team.