Medical School

Should You Volunteer as a Medical Student During Covid-19?

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Volunteer? Study? Isolate? I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it hard. What should we be doing as medical students?

I’ll be joining Becoming A Dr for a national medical student twitter chat, using the hashtag #MedStudentCOVID, to discuss what medical students can be doing during this difficult time.

Twitter, BBC News App, Facebook, Instagram and seemingly every single WhatsApp chat I’ve ever been a member of… Everyone is blasting out information, true and false, about the novel coronavirus and the global pandemic.

Once you’ve waded through the waist-high murky waters of fake-news, misinformation and forged hospital news bulletins, you are faced with more posts an hour than minutes in a day.

As a medical student, there is the added pressures of wondering what on earth we are supposed to be doing during all of this.

Final year medical students are being drafted to the NHS, retired healthcare professionals are being called back into the fray and hundreds of thousands of members of the general public have signed up to volunteer.

Where do we stand in this? Do we have a moral duty to volunteer? What support, advice or help is available to medical students wanting to volunteer?

The Medical Schools Council has released a publication outlining their requirements for the support provided to medical students by their medical schools. They do make clear that (for now) it is entirely optional for medical students to volunteer or not. They repeatedly state that the main priority for all medical students not graduating this year should be continuing our 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.

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.

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 new lockdown, I don’t see how arrangements such as that would be possible. 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 signing up for this service I really 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.

Volunteer at 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 man 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 in the role, don’t do it.

The choice to volunteer is on a voluntary basis, so you shouldn’t be pressured by anyone into doing it.

Where can you get more information?

Read the MSC publication before undertaking any volunteering as a medical student.

Have a look at the GMC coronavirus updates for medical students.

Read the BMA latest advice for medical students.

Visit the GoodSAM website to view their volunteering opportunities.

Contact your medical school about what they are putting in place.

Contact your medical school association (King’s can be contacted here) to see what they are putting in place.

Join Becoming-A-Doctor on twitter on Sunday 29th March 6.00pm (UK time) for a twitter conversation under the hashtag #MedStudentCovid. They will be discussing what medical schools have told their students, what students around the country are doing and various volunteering opportunities.

I’ll be joining the twitter conversation too, @ConnorDibblin, and would love to see you there.

In the meantime, if you have any questions please do get in touch via the Contact page or leave a comment. To keep updated with all my latest posts, please subscribe to the mailing list!

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Connor is a medical student at King’s College London. For the 19/20 academic year he is undertaking an intercalated iBSc in Imaging Sciences, also at King’s.

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