The pandemic puts the URV’s medical students to the test

Almost 170 current and former students from the URV’s degrees in Medicine and Nursing form part of staff at healthcare centres, after being contracted to help relieve the pressure on healthcare professionals during the Covid-19 pandemic

Eulalia Chanovas, Nursing Student at the Verge de la Cinta Hospital in Tortosa.

Students and graduates from the URV’s departments of Medicine and Nursing who were waiting to begin residences at healthcare centres have been playing a vital role in the current emergency. They are volunteers who have been contracted by the healthcare centres to undertake various tasks to reduce the workload of health professionals, in particular during the most difficult weeks of the crisis. They say that is has been a unique opportunity to learn in the context of a global health emergency whilst at the same time having the satisfaction of helping the healthcare system to bear the strain.

“I didn’t hesitate for a second in accepting the work”

Eulàlia Chanovas is one of the 133 students from the third and fourth years of the URV’s Degree in Nursing who have worked during the pandemic (with 120 currently active). “The responsibility that the situation places on me is really exciting. I am very conscious of the dangers that the situation has generated but it is a historic event and personally and professionally highly enriching to be able to contribute as a nurse. I did not hesitate for a second in accepting the work”, she said. She is in the final year of her degree at the URV’s Terres de l’Ebre Campus and she is working in the A&E unit of the Verge de la Cinta Hospital in Tortosa, both in the area set aside for patients with Covid-19 symptoms and in the area for people with other pathologies.

However, hospitals are not the only healthcare centres to have taken on Nursing students, so too have residences for elderly people, mental health centres, social services and primary care centres in Tarragona, Barcelona, Castellón and Cantabria. Furthermore, the services of these volunteers are also starting to be required by centres that provides services for people in situations of vulnerability.

It is in this context that Idir Boulanouar, also a fourth year nursing student, has been working at the intensive care unit of the Santa Tecla Hospital in Tarragona and will soon join its social services unit. His role has been to provide his new colleagues with the materials they required while they attend to seriously ill patients.

Idir Boulanouar, left, 4th year Nursing student at the Santa Tecla Hospital in Tarragona amb un infermer de la UCI.

Boulanouar pointed out that what the students are doing “is not a form of internship, but rather we are doing as much as the professionals allow us to do, and our role is to lighten their workload”. “Although we are there to provide support, we are tutored and under the responsibility of qualified professionals”, added Chanovas.

They have to balance their work at healthcare centres and in social services with their degree studies and their bachelor’s thesis, hence Boulanouar’s assertion that “it is hard to manage, but just realising what you are getting out of it more than makes up for the difficulties”.

“We are building a research database”

Ramon Descarrega is also in the final year of his degree in Medicine and, like a further 9 feloow students from the faculty, is at the Sant Joan University Hospital in Reus. He works in the infectious diseases section and is responsible for reporting to the Department of Health the number of new Covid cases admitted to the hospital every day. His work involves calling relatives and patients and answering the questionnaires that have to be sent to the Department.

Moreover, the data that he is collecting alongside two fellow students is useful for many other purposes such as administration and decision taking, which is why “we create graphs that are consulted by the hospital staff”. It can also be used for studies that help us to improve our understanding of the disease because with data collected “we are building a database that can be used for research”.

Ramon Descarrega, right, 6th year student of Medicine with two fellow students who work in the infectious diseases section of the Sant Joan Univeristy Hospital in Reus.

For Descarrega, this has been his first professional experience in a healthcare centre because “even though 6th year Medical students are usually 23 or 24 years old, we have all completed internships, we still haven’t entered the labour market”, he stated. For this reason he highly rates the work for the opportunity that it presents: “we are working as a team and processing medical and epidemiological data”, he added.

“I am at the field hospital that has been set up in a hotel to care for patients with minor symptoms who cannot isolate themselves at home”

Like Ramon Descarrega, Pablo López also signed up without any hesitation for the voluntary job bank created by both students and staff at the URV’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and which is now managed by the Official Association of Doctors in Tarragona. However, his situation is different as he had already graduated in Medicine at the URV and was about to choose where he would carry out his residence when the crisis first unfolded. Along with Pablo, a further 26 fellow students from the same year are working to tackle the pandemic at various places throughout Spain.

In collaboration with another student, Pablo López is responsible for monitoring patients at the temporary field hospital that is run by the Sant Joan University Hospital in Reus, which cares for people with mild symptoms of Covid-19 but who cannot isolate themselves at home because of the risk this would pose to them or to other people who live there. “Since the patients are able to look after themselves, we monitor them by telephone and only enter the bays when necessary, but we monitor more closely those who need more medication, for example”, he explained. They are supervised in turn by two residents from the Internal Medical Services, they do 12-hour shifts at the hotel and they have to be available to be contacted during the 12 hours that they are not there. “It is a unique opportunity to learn and, at the same time, to make a contribution to the work carried out by the health system” he concluded.

Pablo López, URV Medicine graduate in the hotel that has been temporarily transformed into a medical facility in Reus.

All of the students have assistance in one form or another from the teaching staff at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences. The Medicine students work with their professors, who are doctors that combine clinical practice at the Sant Joan Hospital in Reus with teaching at the URV, explained the dean of the faculty and head of the Internal Medicine Service at the hospital, Antoni Castro. This means that “if we have any questions or problems, we know who we can turn to for assistance”, explained Ramon Descarrega.

The dean of the Faculty of Nursing, María Jiménez, is in permanent contact with the students through representatives of those who are working and has made herself readily available to them: “they know that that can call me at any time of day or night and, when necessary, I have mediated and provided emotional support”. Jiménez also supervises them through her contacts with nursing staff at the healthcare centres and states that “the institutions are very happy with them and I am extremely proud of their eagerness to help out in this situation”.

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