By Lorcan O’Byrne.
As students cannot match the knowledge, skills and clinical experience of a qualified doctor, one might then contend that their involvement in the care of a patient with COVID-19 would primarily be for the students’ educational benefit, rather than for the provision of meaningful healthcare. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic is necessitating that healthcare professionals make impossible decisions under tremendous pressure – decisions which may directly oppose their ethical and moral principles. Such choices include how to apportion inadequate resources to equally deserved patients, how to align their desire and duty to patients with those to family and friends, and how to provide care for all severely unwell patients with constrained or inadequate resources. In such unprecedented times, it is unreasonable to assume that medical students – with no training or experience, would be equipped to handle such responsibility.
A persuasive argument for the inclusion of disaster medicine within the medical curriculum is the fact that health emergencies will continue to occur. Consequently, it befits medical educators to ensure that all prospective healthcare personnel are prepared. Appropriate ‘pandemic preparedness’ involves a curriculum which assures academic competency, as well as education on the logistical challenges specific to pandemics. Suitable preparedness should also involve an awareness of the tools and resources available for the maintenance of optimal student mental health.
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. A proverb which holds its forte in almost all facets of medicine, this maxim captures the essence of the debate on the role of medical students in a crisis. In order to effectively participate in the provision of healthcare, and to function in a role which serves a higher purpose than just educational benefit, students must be prepared. Although crises and the form in which they emerge cannot be predicted, it is a given that healthcare workers will be at the forefront of the response. Thus, medical students should be prepared as such. Until such provisions are in place, no more should be expected of these students than that of the general public.
Author(s): Lorcan O’Byrne
Affiliations: School of Medicine, University College Dublin
Competing interests: None declared.
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