A Surprising Upside to COVID-19
Although the COVID-19 pandemic yielded many medical devastations, many young doctors fast-tracked into residencies to answer the demand for caregivers and essential workers, showing the surprising upside to COVID-19. This succeeded in easing the burden on the medical community. While COVID-19 cases are significant, young doctors are providing aid in places such as the United Kingdom, Czech Republic and Italy.

The UK

Across the United Kingdom, the March 2020 events immediately implored the Medical Schools Council (MSC) to expedite qualifications for final year medical students solely based on their clinical examinations. This fast-tracked those in their last year of medical school by unburdening them from having to work with patients in a hospital setting – something that became nearly impossible during the first stages of the pandemic due to a lack of information about the spread of the disease. A BMC Medical Education study found that almost 40% of students had their Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs) canceled, allowing some students to graduate early and join the workforce.

Over the past 12 months, the United Kingdom endured over 4 million cases and over 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. The Mirror reported on January 20, 2021, that over 50,000 NHS staff members have been sick with COVID-19 and around 800 have died from the virus. The government is trying to respond quickly, not only allowing medical students to wave clinical examinations in some cases but also reconsider whether or not to fast-track the registrations of refugee doctors with foreign degrees. Anna Jones of RefuAid said to the Guardian, “We have 230 doctors who are fully qualified in their own countries. Most have many years of experience as doctors.”

The latter program offers a pathway out of poverty for refugees and immigrants in their new countries. The former has given young people the opportunity to help the global cause in a profound way. Meanwhile, the medical field gave more people of diverse backgrounds more opportunities, which is another surprising upside to COVID-19.

The Czech Republic

In Eastern Europe, medical schools had similar ideas. Many university students took it upon themselves to volunteer at overworked hospitals to help fatigued systems on the verge of collapse.  Students received important medical responsibilities in clinics and administrative roles. Aleksi Šedo, dean of the First Faculty of Medicine at Charles University in Prague, stated, “It’s an honor for our faculty that its students have spontaneously created an initiative to help our health care and, more broadly, the entire society.”

Perhaps another surprising upside to the COVID-19 pandemic is the opportunity for young people to stand out and receive recognition. Although, the Czech Republic obtained praise for how it responded to the pandemic, the second wave in October 2020 hit it hard, resulting in over 15,000 new cases per day. Additionally, just under 3,000 people died in the country from March to September. Moreover, more recent months have yielded a sharp increase, with the death toll now tracking upwards of 20,000.

Only 3.4% of the Czech population is at risk of poverty but there is a strong link between education and poverty in the country. This corroborates the trend of fast-tracking doctors (or in this case, the doctors taking control of fast-tracking themselves through volunteering) as a method of rising out of poverty. The Czech Republic is welcoming young doctors with first-hand pandemic experience into its qualified and registered ranks.

Italy

One of the surprising upsides of COVID-19 comes from Italy and its ‘Cure Italy’ campaign, which emerged during the first days of the pandemic. The whole world was horrified by Italy’s plight as Italy accounted for 10,000 of the first 30,000 reported COVID-19 deaths. The country expedited the process by “cutting the hospital exam and increasing the number of doctors being recruited.” This gave many young doctors their first professional job experience and saved them the standard practice of many Italian medical school graduates: work abroad.

For Italians like Chiara Bonini, Samin Sedghi Zadeh and Stefania Pini, the pandemic gave them a much appreciated if not worrisome opportunity to help in the northern regions when their neighbors needed it. Bonini was in the process of studying for her final exams when the government began to change the process and invited many up north. She jumped at the chance. Zadeh left a job as a general practitioner to help in the face of a crisis. He hopes this will be a call to action regarding the bolstering of health networks. Meanwhile, Pini transferred back to Italy in order to ease the burden after working in Switzerland’s hospitals. She thinks this might be an opportunity to return to work in her home country. One surprising upside to COVID-19 for Italian doctors has been young medical professionals the opportunity to return to Italy.

One Year Milestone

Now that the COVID-19 pandemic has reached its one-year milestone, one can process its effects on health and poverty a little more clearly. The study of medicine has long been one way for those in poverty to change their socioeconomic status and a surprising upside to COVID-19 has been its effects on young and foreign doctors in the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic and Italy. From inviting those in their final year of school to be fully qualified without traditional clinical tests, passing doctors with qualifications from other countries into the health system and bringing doctors back home to fight the disease ravaging their communities, the novel coronavirus has provided glimmers of hope for those in the medical community: it has presented opportunities for essential workers.

Spencer Daniels
Photo: Flickr