To the Editor:
We read that Menon and colleagues emphatically stated in their commentary that medical students should not be classed as essential workers, in keeping with joint guidance from their respective regulatory bodies. 1 In contrast to our colleagues in the United States, we would like to highlight that this viewpoint is not shared from a transatlantic perspective. The Department for Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom has recently confirmed that medical students are deemed essential workers. 2
This recognition speaks volumes of the importance of a student’s role and is certainly in the interest of supporting the National Health Service. The guidance mirrors that of other global education providers, who during the pandemic are mapping a seamless path for current medical students to become our future doctors. 3 Moreover, successful integration of medical students into the pandemic response has seen widespread success. 4
Although Menon and her colleagues raised valid points against essential recognition, they discounted the added value that medical students provide to hospitals under unprecedented strain. The employment of medical students as doctors’ assistants exemplifies their potential. 5 These formal posts were facilitated in partnership with our medical school, and provided us with indemnity insurance, protection, restriction from designated COVID-19 zones, and payment. Our tasks included administration of minor ward round tasks, phlebotomy, timely chasing of results, and other administrative duties, allowing physicians to focus on more pressing aspects of patient care. We are greatly benefitted from the high-quality education we were unintentionally receiving. Though we were learners, as the authors stated, we used our skills to the benefit of our patients and colleagues.
We hope that our experience provides a different take on the dynamic role of medical students in these extraordinary times. We understand, however, that domestic issues, particularly health care coverage and workforce legislation, differ between our respective nations and have justified both our approaches to medical student involvement. Ultimately, while different regulatory bodies have valid reasons regarding essential recognition, it is pertinent to recognize and remember the added value medical students have during a global pandemic.
1. Menon A, Klein EJ, Kollars K, Kleinhenz ALW. Medical students are not essential workers: Examining institutional responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic. Acad Med. 2020;95:1149–1151.
2. Medical Schools CouncilStatement on clinical placements.https://www.medschools.ac.uk/media/2646/statement-on-clinical-placements.pdf
. Published May 1, 2020. Accessed November 17, 2020.
3. Medical Deans Australia and New ZealandMedical students’ contribution to the health workforce response to COVID-19.https://medicaldeans.org.au/md/2020/03/2020-March-19_medical-students-contribution-to-the-COVID-19-health-workf....pdf
. Published March 19, 2020. Accessed November 17, 2020.
4. Majorski DS, von Plessen CM, Scheffer C, Baumann H, Windisch W. Coronakrise: Medizinstudierende helfen lassen. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2020117:A-1130–B-950.
5. Moody J. Medical students drafted in to work on front line at Burton and Derby hospitals. DerbyshireLive. https://www.derbytelegraph.co.uk/burton/unpaid-medical-students-drafted-work-4061687
. Published April 21, 2020. Accessed November 17, 2020.