Medical students may be called upon to support our healthcare system, during an increase in Omicron cases.
Hospitalized patients with Covid-19 have been on the rise for a week, with 40 hospitalizations on Tuesday.
The NZ Resident Doctors Association has been working with district health boards to put a plan in place around resources, fearing that hospitals are already “plagued” by a shortage of staff.
National Secretary Dr Deborah Powell said New Zealand hospitals were overly dependent on international doctors, who are currently in short supply due to border restrictions.
She said that in July last year hospitals were short of 150 full-time resident doctors and that the Christmas period had been a “nightmare” with the number of vacancies and people to be filled.
Powell said they were “preparing” for the surge of Omicron and working to maximize the medical resources available to them and to keep staff and patients safe.
This potentially included hiring final-year medical students, also known as interns, so they could take on more responsibility.
“They won’t be licensed doctors, but they’re still knowledgeable…they know how to assess a patient and then they can report to the doctor on call,” Powell said.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Health said students had the opportunity to provide support in the response to the epidemic.
“The Ministry supports the work higher education providers are undertaking to enable and support students to expand their roles outside of regular student placements to support Aotearoa’s COVID-19 response.
The Health Sciences Division of the University of Otago Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Brunton, said they currently have no students actively involved, but are preparing so that they can help if needed.
“If involved, unless mandated by the government, any expanded roles undertaken by students in providing health services outside of the usual clinical attachments will be on a voluntary basis.”
A spokesperson for the University of Auckland said it had detailed plans in place together with DHBs, the Department of Health and students in case there was an increase.
They acknowledged that the pandemic had placed an increased burden on all students.
“We support them, including our medical students, as best we can.”
Powell said the well-being of doctors was of crucial importance.
“You can’t run empty in a situation like this,
“We are making sure that our less experienced doctors are better used on the wards, where we will have a lot of patients, but it is a safer environment than in front of the house.”
She said it was still an “active area of discussion” about how final year students would work, but safety measures would include adhering to rosters, not working more than safe hours and to stay with the internal agents.