When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic on 11 March, 2020, urban and rural hospitals, along with general practices were working to determine the impact it was to have on their communities. Calculations were being made to establish how many patients would present, whether there would be enough personal protective equipment, how many respirators and how many ICU beds might be needed.
At the same time, medical schools around the country were realising that the pandemic would disrupt learning opportunities for their students who rely upon hospitals and general practices, both locally and interstate, to undertake their clinical placements.
“We wanted to be as proactive as possible. When Canberra Health Services announced they’d be suspending placements temporarily to evaluate the situation, in March, we had already put a hold on student attendance, which gave all our partner hospitals and practices a chance to plan,” acting Director, Professor Zsuzsoka Kecskes explained.
Speros Thomas, a fourth year Student Representative on the Operation Graduate Management team shared, “There were two camps – those who believed students could assist essential health workers during the COVID-19 response, and those who thought students should be sidelined for safety reasons.”
“For Year 3 and 4 students of the Doctor of Medicine and Surgery program, the clinical years are all about the patient experience, so whilst we attempted to support and replace as much of this vital learning as possible, we simultaneously began the process of planning and advocating for students to return to clinical placements. We wrote a set of detailed guidelines to manage the student experience on placement, which helped to significantly offset concerns about student risk, and set about the process of advocacy’” Dr Nicholas Taylor, Associate Dean and Chair, Phase 2 Teaching & Learning, said.
The acting Director, Professor Zsuzsoka Kecskes, worked closely with the Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand who collaborated with the Australian Medical Students Association, the Australian Medical Council, and the Department of Health, to provide health services with recommendations around how students could be safely re-instated to clinical placements. ”It was this National effort and support, and our team’s work to develop clear local guidelines, protocols, communication, a governance model and our regular communication with ANU, Canberra Health Services and Calvary Hospital, that made the return of not just our final but also penultimate year students to clinical placement possible. This was not the case in other Australian Medical Schools,” stated Professor Kecskes.
The Rural Clinical School working with its partners - including the NSW Rural Doctors Network, South Eastern NSW, Western NSW and Murrumbidgee Local Health Districts, General Practices in Bega, Cooma, Eurobodalla, Goulburn, Young and Cowra - developed processes and guidelines to meet the challenges of COVID19 and worked together successfully to continue to be able to train Year 3 long-term rural placement students.
“In many rural areas (where students live during their placement) there was already a huge amount of community stress because of the bushfires, including infrastructure losses, electricity black-outs and property losses. Despite these challenges, our communities have supported the Rural Clinical School and our students and we are extremely grateful for their ongoing support,” Christina Vett, Rural Education Coordinator, said.
Gabrielle Gross, third year Student Representative said, “We are very fortunate to be in a medical school that values student input. We were regularly encouraged to provide student feedback and suggestions. The staff were very supportive and strongly considered our opinions when implementing changes.”
In early May, students were advised their placements would resume. “Our Phase 2 students are the future medical workforce for our region so it was with much relief that we have been able to reintegrate them back into their placements.” Dr Nicholas Taylor said.
“I had three weeks of paediatric placement at Canberra Hospital in June. And even though there was a reduced number of patients and we aren’t able to see any potential COVID patients, we still had plenty of opportunities to go to clinics, attend ward rounds and more,” said third year Student Representative, Rebecca Malley. “I’m currently in my second week of the general surgery rotation at Calvary Hospital. The experience has been great, everyone has been very welcoming, making us part of the team.”
Speros Thomas remarked, “Every single staff member went above and beyond to support students. For some staff, I don’t think weekends have even existed over the last couple of months. I know the student cohort recognises this effort and are very appreciative.”
“In times of crisis, you learn how good your team is, and we have a fabulous team,” said Dr Taylor. “The commitment shown by everybody, especially our amazing student reps, was inspirational, and despite the somewhat significant extra stress, this experience will remain with me as a great example of a team working towards a shared goal. And...it's not over yet!”
PHASE 2 CLINICAL PLACEMENT TEAM
- Professor Zsuzsoka Kecskes, acting Director, ANU Medical School
- Dr Nicholas Taylor, Chair and Associate Dean Phase 2 Teaching & Learning
- A/Prof David Kramer, Associate Dean Medical Education & Admissions
- Associate Professor Malcolm Moore, Associate Dean Rural Clinical School
- Professor Kirsty Douglas, Professor of General Practice
- Dr Carolyn Droste, Sub Dean Calvary Hospital
- Professor Paul Pavli, Sub Dean Canberra Hospital
- Ms Meg Milne, Manager, Rural Clinical School
- Dr Wendy Dimond, Education Manager
- Ms Pru Rolff, Education Delivery Manager
Clinical Placement staff:
- Mr Aleks Demianenko, Clinical Education Coordinator Year 3
- Ms Soo Leng Davis, Clinical Support Coordinator Year 4
- Ms Mingming Li, Clinical Education Officer Year 3
- Ms Christina Vett, Clinical Education Coordinator, Rural Clinical School
- Ms Claire Wardle, Assessment & Evaluation Coordinator Phase 2
- Ms Julia Legge, Administration Support
- Ms Gabrielle Gross, Year 3
- Ms Rebecca Malley, Year 3
- Mr Speros Thomas, Year 4
Supporting the Placement Implementation, Block Chairs:
- Dr Phillip Gray, ICCH Chair
- A/Prof Katrina Anderson, Integrated Child and Community Health
- Professor Klaus-Martin Schulte, Professor of Surgery
- A/Prof Jeffrey Looi, Psychiatry and Addiction Medicine
- Professor Drew Richardson, Acute Care
- Professor Matthew Cook, Professor of Medicine
- Dr Robert Orefice, WHNC