Trainee doctors’ cry to be enjoined in Covid-19 war
Rebecca Mutiso and Irene Githinji
The fight against the coronavirus pandemic could receive a major boost if a proposal to absorb over 1,000 trainee doctors in the country’s health facilities is accepted.
Proposals developed by the Medical Students Association of Kenya is already under consideration by the Kenya Medical Association (KMA).
Affected students, according to the president of the student’s body, Nicolas Kioko were on the verge of completing their final year in various universities before proceeding to internship in health facilities when the pandemic spread.
Trainee doctors have expressed willingness to work in health facilities across the country to provide the doctors with the much-needed support in containing the pandemic.
The development comes at a time hundreds of health workers have contracted the disease which has ravaged the country since March.
According to Kioko, the fate of between 1,000-1,500 students is hanging on the balance and they are willing to work in hospitals as long as they provided with the Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs).
“Hospitals need the manpower to fight the pandemic. If intern doctors are allowed to practice, then final year students should also be allowed to help as long as they are provided with the necessary protective gear,” he says.
The association has also written to KMA proposing a phased reopening of medical schools.
“A medical student joins a medical school because of their commitment to learn and be the agent of change and transformation of healthcare in the society.
By the rule of thumb, this cannot be done from home. Similarly, a physical patient-student experience in the wards remains at the heart of medical training and is the reason behind the 3-4 year clerkship experience that is mandatory before graduation from a medical school.
While online classes are feasible for other programmes, physical classes remain the only way for a medical student to gain clinical experience, hence virtual learning has little to no advantage,” the letter sent on Friday says in part.
KMA Secretary General, Dr Simon Kigondu says they are also recommending re-opening of medical schools in universities at the earliest possible opportunity.
“This should particularly be so for students who were in their final year and about to graduate but the coronavirus disease disrupted the school calendar,” he said.
Kigondu said the KMA Covid-19 Advisory Committee is considering floating the idea to respective universities since the students are a critical part of the human resource in the healthcare system.
He says a majority of final students were only left with sitting for their exams so that they can move to the next level.
“There should be organised ways where medical schools in universities can reopen and look for possibilities of final year students sitting for their exams, some of whom were only left with sitting for their examinations. Others were even to graduate last month,” Dr Kigondu told the People Daily yesterday.
In the USA, states such as Massachusetts and New York offered final year medical students early graduation so that they could join the frontline in the war against the pandemic. This followed a similar move by Italy and Britain.
Kigondu says the KMA Committee is recommending phased reopening of medical schools in all universities because they are also a strong team to not only assist with the coronavirus situation but also other medical challenges.
Atiyya Tul Munim, a final year student at the Moi University School of Medicine, one of the trainee doctors was looking forward to graduating this year and becoming a doctor after six years of burning the midnight oil to achieve her dream.
For Munim, the journey to becoming a doctor has been fraught with many roadblocks. She was already a year late for her graduation because of strikes by lecturers, nurses and doctors.
When Covid-19 struck, it threw her life into a spin because it now meant she will take at least eight years to complete her studies as opposed to six.
Munim says over 80 final year students at Moi University have not been having online classes because they need to get “evidence-based clinical” experience in order to graduate.
“We had resumed classes in February but we had to go back home because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Can you imagine what it feels like to delay your graduation for two years.
Most of us are really frustrated and depressed because we feel we have become a burden our parents.
We are tired of being at home we want to be allowed to complete our studies,” she says.
Amir Mumin, a final year medical student at University of Nairobi shares in her frustration.
Amir who is also the University of Nairobi Association of Medical Students chairperson, was eight weeks away from wearing the graduation gown, to signify the end of six years of hard work.
He is now staring at the possibility that his journey to becoming a doctor could be delayed for at least a year.
Although the school administration has assured them that they will graduate, they are still remaining with clinical work.
“Covid-19 came at a critical year for us. Although at UoN we finished two months of theory work, we have been assured we may graduate in December,” he says.
Now the final year students want the government to allow them to allow them to go to hospitals because this will give us a “golden opportunity to learn”
Bok Chol, a final year medical student at Moi University expresses fear that there would be no medical interns in health facilities next year if final year students do not graduate.
“This means that there will be a crisis unless county governments decide to employ more doctors which may not be feasible because of financial constraints,” he says.
Already, the University of Nairobi (UoN) final year medical students, especially post-graduate, had put out a request to have them get back to school to sit for their examinations.
Kenyatta University (KU) Vice Chancellor Prof Paul Wainaina says they were ready to resume in September but the new directive from Ministry of Education that pushed on-campus learning to January next year will require a re-organisation on the way forward.
He says some of the activities affected by the postponement are graduation.
In a normal situation, Kenyatta University graduations are usually held in July and December.
Prof Wainaina said the university will have to discuss with the Ministry on how to implement a system that allows medical students, especially final students, sit for their exams in the earliest possible opportunity.
“The KU management and Senate is expected to hold a meeting to discuss on how we move forward going by the announcement made last week, postponing reopening to January.
However, this year we can only have one graduation ceremony hopefully between November and December,” says the VC.
He said that virtual learning has been going on well and students are awaiting guidance on how to sit for their examinations.
Similarly, Prof Wainana says they are working on modalities to have Masters and doctorate students present their thesis virtually.
The Kenya University Students Association (KUSO) has a different perspective altogether.
KUSO President, Anthony Manyara says the earliest that graduations can be conducted should be in December, to give time to students lagging behind in adopting the online system of learning.
“As much as virtual learning is ongoing in a majority of universities, there is still a fraction of students who cannot access the internet and that is why we are pushing to have the Ministry of Education assist in procuring cheaper laptops for students,” says Manyara.