Medical students who are still learning the ropes, stepped up to help frontline workers in the fight against COVID-19 by manning the screening tents.
Johannesburg, South Africa (11 August 2020) – Dr Carolyn Lewis shared the story of medical students that have stepped up to help on the frontline of COVID-19; she shares how the students have taken on the task of manning the screening tents at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg.
Helen Joseph Hospital is a large and exceptionally busy public hospital based in Auckland Park, Westdene, Johannesburg. Dr Lewis explains that as part of their COVID-19 response, a decision was made to erect a screening tent outside the main Emergency Department entrance.
All patients (with the exception of unstable emergency patients) presenting to the hospital would first be screened in this tent for any respiratory symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 before proceeding onwards into the hospital for their visit.
“The rationale was that we aimed to protect the hospital – both staff and patients – as much as possible from being exposed unnecessarily to anyone that may have COVID-19. We aimed to try to avoid having patients that may have COVID-19 sitting in a queue for their routine clinic appointment (for example) alongside well patients or having patients that may have COVID-19 being treated by a nurse or doctor without adequate PPE. Any patient with respiratory symptoms was seen in a separate area of the tent and assessed by a team of doctors before either being permitted into the hospital or managed solely in the tent if appropriate.” – Dr Carolyn Lewis
The problem with the tent was that staff are already stretched thin so the hospital decided to bring in outside help. They brought in medical students to help cover the shifts at the hospital’s screening tents.
The medical students were more than happy to step up and take on the task. 50 students came forward which means 10 students per day to help staff the screening tents.
“This is where medical students mainly from the University of the Witwatersrand (WITS) stepped up to the challenge. With the onset of lockdown WITS Faculty of Health Sciences set up a volunteer program for students that wished to be of assistance to the COVID-19 response. Helen Joseph Hospital reached out to WITS for assistance and together coordinated a team of roughly 50 volunteers (10 per day) to staff the screening tent.
Word spread amongst these enthusiastic students and a number of medical students from other universities who were at home in Johannesburg whilst their studies on campus had come to a halt joined the team and volunteered their time.
These students volunteered either once or twice a week and their roles were to direct and marshal the queue of patients attending the hospital to ensure social distancing, to keep the queue moving so that we didn’t have patients having to gather whilst waiting to be attended to, screening patients for respiratory symptoms and directing them to the appropriate part of the hospital for their particular appointment or needs.
As patients tend to start arriving at the hospital early in the morning – this meant that the students needed to arrive early as well! So from 6 am to 2 pm every weekday, a team of students would be present come rain, shine or (on more than one occasion) frost to ensure that our screening tent ran smoothly.
After four months of volunteering, most of the students have returned to their studies although a number have continued to volunteer in the hospital in any way that they can be of assistance. Without the students, we could not have managed to successfully run the screening tent!
If the students we have seen volunteering with enthusiasm, kindness and dedication are our future health care workers – we are in good hands in the years to come!”
These are the future doctors and medical professionals of South Africa; they have stepped forward, proving that South Africa is in the hands of a competent next generation.
We would like to wish these students the best of luck during their studies; may you carry our praise and pride for all the years to come.