August 18, 2020

Medical students supporting our COVID-19 response

A number of final year medical students from Northern Clinical School are now casual Northern Health employees, playing an important role in helping us with the COVID-19 pandemic response.

Dr Leonie Griffiths, Director Medical Education Northern Clinical School, explained the school is part of University of Melbourne located onsite at Northern Centre for Health, Education & Research (NCHER). As a result of the pandemic, the hospital has required additional help and the medical students were able to fill roles in different areas.

“The students have been mostly assisting with contact tracing, PPE and in Pathology. They are actually doing two roles at the moment. In their student role, they are undertaking their regular ward activities, and, in their own time, they are undertaking the paid pandemic role,” she explained.

The students commenced in both programs a month ago and are able to continue until they start their internships in January, if the demand is there.

“The strength is that they already have a great knowledge of the hospital and the system, and as a workforce, they are already well prepared. They are a very flexible, adaptable workforce,” DrĀ  Griffiths explained.

The students were very eager to contribute to Northern Health’s pandemic response. For them, this is a great opportunity to see how a health service operates during a pandemic, and engage more closely with the hospital, while contributing to patient care in a more meaningful way.

“Students genuinely value this opportunity. Being final year medical students, they are set to graduate this year, and most of them would be coming back to Northern Health as interns next year,” Dr Griffiths added.

Sara Unal is one of those students, working in the micro lab on the coronavirus testing.

“It’s been really fun and I have learned a lot. I have picked up a lot on how to be a good doctor, in terms of clinical notes and referring things to Pathology. I learnt a lot about the pandemic and the different machines required for testing. The team is lovely here and they are looking after us,” she said.

Her colleague, Lauren Russo, said she “feels like I am contributing meaningfully to the coronavirus pandemic workforce. I have learned so much about the virus and different genes in the virus,” while Ji Park, another student, added: “We are in a such a privileged position to be able to help during a pandemic. I would really like to give a huge shout to the Pathology team. Through this experience, we realised how much of an amazing job they are doing behind the scenes”.

Dr Frank Hong, Director of Pathology, said medical students have played an important part in helping Northern Pathology Victoria (NPV) maintain its COVID-19 testing capability, as the testing in Melbourne surged in July. They have helped NPV achieve one of the best turnaround times in Victoria, with an approximate mean time of 10-12 hours.

“From registering COVID-19 swabs to setting up samples for actual testing in the molecular laboratory, the students have been enthusiastic and always ready to help, including on weekends and in the evenings. We are very appreciative of their help and hopefully this has also given them some insight into how Pathology works,” he said.

Infection prevention is another area the students have been working in, and Madelaine Flynn, Manager Infection Prevention, said the University of Melbourne medical students have been instrumental to the success of the infection prevention team during COVID-19.

“Their tasks included aiding in data collection, contact tracing and providing phone support to staff who are either close contacts or confirmed COVID-19 cases. The students have embodied Northern Health’s values of safe, kind and together in all of their interactions. They are being kind to everyone, working as a part of the team and helping our department to keep our staff and patients safe,” she explained.

Featured image (left to right): Sara Unal (centre), Ridvan Atlihan, Michael D’Silva, Nadia Olivier, Dr Frank Hong, Ji Park, Lauren Russo