Medical students volunteer to help Fight Covid-19

Dozens of medical students enrolled at The University of the West Indies Cave Hill are lending critical support to Barbados’ fight against the coronavirus pandemic as authorities gear for a possible surge in the number of COVID-19 cases across the nation.

The volunteers who are at the clinical training stage of their academic careers will substitute for clinicians and other medical personnel now serving on the COVID-19 frontline, which has caused a depletion of staff at primary care facilities.

When classes were suspended in March following confirmation of COVID-19 in Barbados, volunteering in his nativeland seemed like an obvious next step for 5th year medical student Nathan Gibson.

“It was really simple. One of the reasons I chose medicine in the first place is to be able to help people and to be able to serve, and this gives me an opportunity to do that in a real world scenario because yes, at medical school we have clinical experience but there is nothing like this. I’m not sure if we’ll ever see something like this in our lifetime again so it’s a great learning opportunity,” he said.

He added that the experience he and his colleagues will gain will prepare them for dealing with any future health crisis in the region.

“If a scenario like this happens (again) my generation or my group of doctors will be the ones at the forefront and this opportunity would be invaluable.”

Gibson is one of some 40 medical students from Barbados and Trinidad who have volunteered to provide supplementary support to doctors and nurses involved in the fight against the COVID 19 pandemic.

The students have already been trained in the correct use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and infectious disease precautions regarding the management of laboratory samples from COVID patients. Their training was conducted in accordance with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) training standard.

Once they are formally deployed they will provide much needed support for frontline staff at local isolation centres.

For Trinidadian Bridget Thomas, another final year student, volunteering for this humanitarian cause also seemed like the right thing to do.

“Currently the world is experiencing a pandemic that no one has ever experienced before so if I could help in any way possible, in Barbados or any country for that matter, I’d be more than willing to give my services,” she said.

Her compatriot aspiring physician Aziza Maynard, a 4th year student has also welcomed the prospect of give freely of her time and talent.

“I saw this as an opportunity to gain experience and exposure before actually graduating … and I wanted to be part of helping others,” she noted.

Jordenlee Mendez was just two weeks away from completing her 4th year when classes were suspended due to COVID-19. Like her colleagues, she is also volunteering to assist health care providers as well as gain practical experience.

“We’re training to be medical professionals, and medical professionals always adhere to the call to help. So not being doctors, but being medical students who will be doctors as of next year, is what kind of drove us to help,” the Trinidadian student noted.

Fifth year Barbadian student Makaila Denny felt duty-bound to offer her services to her country.

“I believe that I can and should lend my assistance in this crisis. I accept I could be placing myself in harm’s way but I am relying on the provision of reliable safety equipment and supervision by others already in the fight to assure me of a safe work environment.

“I see this as an opportunity as a student to help my country in a time of great need. I also expect this to be a powerful on-hand learning experience to take me through my future career in medicine,” she said.

Final year student Melissa Brathwaite usually welcomes any chance to volunteer at events so she did not hesitate to step forward when this latest opportunity arose to be part of the local effort.

“Knowing that it would put a burden on the already burdened health care system here I found it within myself without hesitation that if I am here at home, yes I am studying for my upcoming exams, but I do have the more time now than I would have initially.

“And I think that it would help me not so much to stay home and think about myself and studying but to open up my mind and more to help other people,” she said.

Meanwhile former Deputy Dean (Preclinical) of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, Dr Kenneth Connell, has lauded the students’ decision to serve.

“I am very pleased to welcome UWI students into the health care environment in a very realistic sense. Their UWI degree is preparing them to be agile practitioners to respond to the dynamic health landscapes, such as an emerging pandemic.

“I am certain that the experience gained from their volunteering, and all of them have been eager to assist in any way possible, will etch an indelible mark in their medical career. I am so proud to observe this,” he said.

The medical students are part of a wider team from the UWI Cave Hill Campus community that is contributing to Barbados’ fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

A number of members of the Faculty of Medical Sciences are providing critical care for COVID-19 patients at the isolation and quarantine centres, including bedside assistance, diagnosis and ongoing treatment. Other members have also been providing voluntary assistance to the national effort in various capacities including operating hotlines and logistics preparation.

Director of Medical Services at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Dr. Clyde Cave is coordinating the support activities of the medical students.

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