Coronavirus: Hundreds of medicine students fast-tracked into fight against Covid-19

‘We’re know there’s a tsunami coming. We’re ready to to help’

Final year medicine students at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI) Anthony Javed Machikan and Shivran Singh are studying for exams which will take place six weeks earlier than expected. They will be among hundreds of new doctors to join the fight against Covid-19. Video: Kathleen Harris


Earlier this month Anthony Javed Machikan was studying hard for his final year medical exams that take place in May.

Then the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) announced it was fast-tracking the exams due to the coronavirus threat, cutting study time from seven weeks to just seven days.

“It was immense stress,” says Machikan. “It was a case of studying for 16-hours each day . . . thankfully, I passed it. In fact, the majority of us did.”

The RCSI and NUI Galway brought forward summer exams for hundreds of medical students to ensure they are ready to play a crucial role in the frontline of the fight against Covid-19.

In all, about 1,300 students will graduate from the country’s six university schools of medicine, many of who will be ready to work in the health service from as early as next month.

“People often talk about young people being snowflakes or self-centred,” says Prof Hannah McGee, dean of the RCSI’s faculty of medicine and health sciences. “Yet, they have taken on early exams, with a risk of not getting the grades they wanted, and there has been no sense of ‘woe is us’.

“There’s is a general sense among them that what’s happening is bigger than any of us. They are committed to playing their part.”

At the RCSI, for example, students were given a chance to vote on whether to introduce earlier exams or stick with the original exam schedule; in the end, the vast majority opted for earlier exams.

“Out of about 340 students, I think 310 opted for the early exams,” says Machikan (23). “It was a lot of stress, but there is a sense of solidarity with other workers in the health system.

“Most of us, including the international students, have chosen to stay in Ireland. We know there is a tsunami coming and the system needs all the support it can get.

“We feel we can help alleviate the burden. It’s time for us to do our part. This is what we’ve been training for over the last five years. To abandon ship now just wouldn’t be right.”

A spokeswoman for NUI Galway said its school of medicine adjusted the timing of exams and was preparing its final-year medical students for entry into the healthcare settings.

“Providing additional capacity to the health service is a matter of priority to the school and the final-year students will enter the workforce at a time that is agreed with relevant national clinical and training bodies.”

While the HSE normally places new graduates into the health service in July, well-placed sources say there are plans to do this two months earlier in an effort to help the system cope.

As well as boosting the supply of junior doctors into the health service, the move to rush the exams over recent days has freed up hundreds of academic clinicians - who would have been tied up in education duties - to focus on the needs of the health service.

Health authorities have also announced a recruitment drive for retired or former health staff to return to the sector to help prepare for what is set to be a surge in demand on frontline services.

For Machikan, who is from St Augustine, a town in northwest Trinidad, it is a worrying time back home too.

He has lots of elderly relatives he would like to see; the country has also recorded its first batch of Covid-19 cases and is taking similar steps to Ireland, such as closing down public areas, bars and restaurants.

In the meantime, his focus is on the final online exam next month. He doesn’t know yet where in the health service he will be assigned to. Either way, the coronavirus threat will dominate everything.

“We’re eagerly looking forward to graduation so that we can alleviate the burden on our healthcare colleagues in this fight against Covid 19,” he says.

“We hope the HSE chooses to use all available doctors as soon as they become available. The most frustrating thing we can experience as final-year students is being so close to becoming doctors and not yet being able to assist our brave doctors, nurses and pharmacists on the frontline of this outbreak.”