Dr. Béla Merkely, Rector of Semmelweis University held an online student forum related to the involvement of medical and health sciences students in COVID-19 patient care. Starting from November 23, on the basis of the decision of the Operative Staff, students can be asked to carry out two different tasks depending on their university year and faculty: participation in the screening of teachers and in the patient care of hospitalized COVID patients. Besides this, students still take part in the PCR testing procedures organized by the National Ambulance Service. None of the students can lose a semester because of occasional missed classes due to being involved in tasks related to COVID-19 patient care – said the rector. The university will be flexible regarding this question, but the mastering of some skills is inevitable.

At the beginning of the forum, the rector expressed his appreciation to the students for their support in the H-UNCOVER survey, in the patient care of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the framework of volunteer work, in student screenings as well as their active participation in the two-day screening project in Slovakia. According to Dr. Béla Merkely, the epidemic changes everybody’s lives, all of us will have personal experiences related to coronavirus. The rector has currently been in quarantine since Monday because of the COVID-19 disease of one of his close relatives; since then his PCR test has been positive, too, and since Wednesday he has been having symptoms as well.

Now, I can tell everyone on the basis of a personal experience that this is not a simple cold, but a lot more than that, a serious infectious disease, the conquer of which consumes the entire person”, said he.

Dr. Merkely also highlighted that there is a great need for students in the restraint of the epidemic, and they could play an important role in the reduction of case numbers and mortality rate so that a calm transition could be ensured until the availability of the vaccination.

On the basis of the decision of the Operative Staff, in the defense against coronavirus there are two tasks coordinated by government institutions, where there is a great need for the support provided by medical and health sciences students – said Dr. Merkely. According to this decision, starting from November 23, students can be asked to participate in the screening of teachers of educational institutions and to take part in the patient care of hospitalized COVID patients. Besides this, students continue their work in the PCR testing procedures organized by the National Ambulance Service.

Being asked to provide support in COVID-19 patient care is independent from the university, but the university represents student interests and does everything in order to ensure that education and the participation in practical training can be manageable in this situation as well. We will provide all the flexibility and support that we can”, emphasized the rector.

As Dr. Merkely said, the university has already had discussions with the Ministry of Innovation and Technology and they agreed on the following: it should be taken into consideration in case a student is already committed to do any sort of volunteer work related to the epidemic; 1st and 2nd year medical students should be exempted from carrying out COVID-19 related tasks, because these are the classes where students have the most theoretical learning commitments.

Meanwhile the students’ claims about being able to continue their studies and to complete exams and practical training courses are absolutely taken into account, the university cannot have allowances regarding the practical training requirements, these have to be fulfilled by all means – pointed out the rector. He told the students that in case of any problems they should directly turn to him or to any other leaders of the university.

As Dr. Merkely said, Semmelweis University was always functioning steadfastly during its 250 years, even in case of world wars, revolutions and large epidemics; this will be the same in the current epidemiological situation as well. He also emphasized that the university aims at ensuring the functioning of the institution on the best possible level.

Dr. Péter Hermann, vice-rector for educational affairs talked about the legal background of this secondment (509/2000 (XI. 19.), 521/2013 (XII.30. Government Regulation). According to this, the secondment is initiated by the county government institution; a student employment contract is signed in the framework of which the allocations are tax-exempt (5000 HUF per day on a working day, 7500 HUF per day on a weekend day); the credit value of the acquired working experience is determined by a credit transfer committee. The fulfillment of the educational requirements of the concerned students are organized by the higher education institution in view of the student employment contract. There are general causes for refusal (pregnancy; long-term, personal care of a relative etc.): in such cases a leniency application should be submitted.

The 5th and 6th year medical and dental students, as well as the 3rd and 4th year nursing students of the Faculty of Health Sciences can primarily be asked to carry out tasks related to the health care of hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The 3rd and 4th year medical and dental students, the 3rd, 4th and 5th year students of the Faculty of Pharmacy (plus the 1st and 2nd year students in case their involvement is also required) as well as the 1st and 2nd year nursing students of the Faculty of Health Sciences, plus further students of the faculty can take part in the screening of teachers. Every student will be contacted by the government institution via e-mail or on the phone. In case there is a need for it, students can be provided with accommodation and three meals per day in the framework of the secondment.

The secondment is primarily for a time period of 2 weeks and students can receive the 2 credit points per week in the framework of the elective course entitled “Medical commitments related to the epidemiological emergency situation caused by coronavirus”. Dr. Péter Hermann also emphasized that none of the students can lose their semesters because of the work accomplished in the current epidemiological situation.

During the session of student questions, among others, the rector said the following: flexibility is needed in order to harmonize the completion of exams with the tasks of the secondment; the university will provide the most suitable individualized solutions, and it is also recommended to have a discussion with the department heads. Oral exams can be held online, however practical exams require the personal presence of the students. Work accomplished in the framework of the secondment can be credited in the current practical training to a certain extent, but the specific parts of the practice have to be made up for; the university is also flexible in this but the mastering of the required skills is inevitable. The examination period and the deadline of thesis submission can be extended in light of the period of the secondment.

The university has two essential interests: to prepare students for their profession and as a medical university, to persist in the medical management of the epidemic. In the latter one, as citizens of Semmelweis University, you have an important role, since we can only conquer this epidemic together. The university will do everything so that you can complete this academic year successfully, please do likewise”, highlighted Dr. Béla Merkely.

Pálma Dobozi
Featured image (illustration): Attila Kovács – Semmelweis University
Translation: Katalin Illés-Romhányi