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Brazil drafting med students to fight Covid-19 spread

. Mar 19, 2020
Health Brazil drafting med students to fight Covid-19 spread Photo: Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock

“I feel like an 18-year-old boy waiting to be drafted to war,” says medical student Angela Tudisco, 24.

Medical student Angela Tudisco, 24, was only months away from becoming a qualified physician. Close to finishing her final internship in the oncology unit of a teaching hospital, she was on the verge of getting her diploma. All of a sudden, however, her plans may have been turned upside-down, as Ms. Tudisco, along with thousands of other final-year med students, is being called up to work during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Health Ministry had initially wanted to bring former doctors out of retirement to help in this “war effort,” but the idea was shot down as they would be more vulnerable to the virus. Instead, psychology residents and sixth-year medical students were called up.

“We

will train them (residents and interns) to increase the workforce with young doctors, because, if they get sick, they will be able to recover faster and develop immunity. Those professionals are very important at this moment,” said Health Minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, during a press briefing on Wednesday.</p> <p>According to Mr. Mandetta, the students will be supervised by senior doctors “but, after 7,200 hours of training, they are ready and will be very important at this moment.” The ministry is also hiring 5,811 doctors under emergency conditions to help amid the pandemic.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Education Minister Abraham Weintraub has also urged universities to resume classes in health-related courses, as many have shut their doors in self-isolating measures.</p> <p>“I need medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and physiotherapy students to get back to classes. I need you to resume activities in health departments, not only students and professors but also technicians and administrative staff, so we can call on these students if we must and they may help us to provide assistance to sick Brazilians,” said Mr. Weintraub on <a href="https://twitter.com/AbrahamWeint/status/1240033859674222593">Twitter</a>.</p> <h2>Life on the front during the pandemic</h2> <p>As internships in public health units is a mandatory step in medicine courses, many of these students were already helping out before being called up by the Health Ministry.</p> <p>Gabrielle Novaes, 27, is currently an intern at the ER of a private hospital in São Paulo that has assembled an exclusive area for respiratory diseases. She says that, as students are not allowed to work unsupervised, they are assisting the doctors in appointments by notifying potential Covid-19 cases and answering patients&#8217; doubts.</p> <p>Karin Ferreira, 27, is facing the reality of the pandemic in a public health unit in São Paulo. In an interview with <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>, she said that so far they have not reported suspected cases, but misinformation may make the situation worse.</p> <p>“It is not overcrowded so far, we have not had any suspect cases that demanded Covid-19 tests. But we have many people exposing themselves unnecessarily, showing up with complaints like chronic backaches. [&#8230;] I think the importance of isolation must be reinforced to the population,” she said.</p> <h2>Uncertainties and personal toll on health professionals</h2> <p>While the students are ready to help, they are not sure what this will mean in the short and medium-term regarding their education.</p> <p>Since only graduated doctors may provide diagnoses and prescriptions, other countries are working to get these sixth-year students ready for service as soon as possible. In Italy, where the pandemic has reached alarming levels, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-coronavirus-italy/italy-rushes-new-doctors-into-service-as-coronavirus-deaths-rise-above-2500-idUSKBN214245">graduations are being fast-tracked</a> as the country will scrap the final exams of 10,000 doctors and rush them into service. The <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/15/uk-medical-schools-urged-to-fast-track-final-year-students-to-help-fight-coronavirus">UK is following suit</a>, according to <em>The Guardian</em>. Brazil has not yet made such a move.</p> <p>“We are in limbo. I’m not sure if I’m going to be called up, when and where to they will send me. I’m not sure what else we could do as students. (&#8230;) But, as the doctors will be busy with patients, I suppose they will send us to places where we can make tests and provide quality information. That is also our job as health professionals, especially in an era of fake news,” said Ms. Tudisco to <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the service starts to take its toll on the young doctors&#8217; personal lives. While all the students report being protected with PPE equipment, there is no denying they are on the front line and vulnerable. Both Ms. Ferreira and Ms. Tudisco fear becoming vectors for the virus, while Ms. Novaes has already experienced changes in her personal routine.</p> <p>“We are not in a panic, but [doctors] who live with elderly people or those with other illnesses are worried and trying to relocate. Personally, I’m home alone now. My 76-year-old grandfather and 8-year-old daughter moved to another home so we don’t get in touch,” she says.

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Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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