Published: 20th March 2020
Why MBBS students in Tamil Nadu don't want to hang around Corona wards in Government Hospitals
The Tamil Nadu Medical Students' Association issued a statement on Tuesday demanding that undergraduate students be given holidays as well
The Tamil Nadu government has issued orders to shut down all schools, colleges across the state. Exams have also been postponed, people have been advised to work from home and all public spaces have been closed down. But there's one section of students who are probably at a higher risk of contracting the COVID-19 and are desperate to go home — medical students.
Yet, they are not being allowed to.
The Tamil Nadu Medical Students' Association issued a statement on Tuesday demanding that undergraduate students be granted holidays as well. We met a few students to ask them what was it that was getting them so worried. Were they turning away from responsibilities? The students say no. They had said in their statement that they were not trained to handle a pandemic but that is not it at all - undergraduate students tell us they say they are not ready to even handle patients yet.
"We are in our final year and it is only now that we are starting our proper learning. We are simply not trained to go into the hospital right now. In Chennai, our doctor-patient ratio is in accordance with WHO standards, we are one of the better-off states that way. But even if there is a shortage, it is the PG students who are trained to handle the situation, not us," a student said.
Even if by some twist of fate, the undergraduate students are called in to pitch in, they say it still doesn't make sense for first, second and third-year students to stay back. "Even under ordinary circumstances, as final year students, we won't be allowed to treat patients because we are not trained to. So now, I'm not sure how we can stay back and help," they question.
"In the third year, the students deal with ENT patients. So if they get coughed on, they won't even know and could risk getting affected," the students said. Students of all years including the PG students who work in the hospitals live together in the hostel. The undergraduate students feel that there are more chances of them contracting the virus from the PG students who could be exposed to it, "But that is not even our major concern — the scary part is that we go outside, to shops or anywhere, even to the tea stall. Some of us may go back home as well and we could spread it to them. That is what is truly worrying," a student said.
Another student pointed out that there is a risk that they themselves could transmit the COVID-19 to patients they visit in other hospitals. "We go to different hospitals and interact with patients. Their immunity might already be low and we could transmit the virus to them," they point out.
Another major concern for the students is that they are not being provided with enough protective masks or hand sanitisers. When they approach officials and ask for the same, they are told that they have run out of supplies. Even doctors don't have the required equipment, "The least the government can do is to provide us with the masks and sanitisers because we are the ones who risk exposure. Because we interact and live with people who are in and out of hospitals." The students complained that the masks that cost only one rupee just a few days ago are now costing Rs 40-50. "Especially because we are more prone to contract the Coronavirus they should give us the N97 masks," they add.
PG medics have a different take on this. During the month of December, the students received their postings, which means that they are now cramming to get their raining done. "We are all allotted different hospitals to work in, so if we do get holidays, our postings would get delayed meaning we have fewer study holidays as well. So we may have no choice but to stay back but it makes no sense to keep the juniors here. Atleast we can reduce the number of residents in the hostel rooms, that way we can lessen the transmission and maintain space from each other," another student recommended.
The students say their parents are worried sick too and want them to come home. "In the beginning, we did think that this could be contained like the other diseases in the past. But now we know that it's difficult. So now they are scared but we can't afford to take leave and go back either," the students said. Their professors also feel that the students should be given holidays, they claim. "Professors also deal with patients in hospitals and then when they interact with us, they risk transmission. So they are also worried about that but they can't do anything because it's up to the government," they state.
While the students believe that in Kerala and Tamil Nadu there are enough number of doctors to deal with the pandemic, they are apprehensive about the infrastructure in place, "The problem is not a shortage of doctors, it is the shortage of infrastructure. There aren't enough labs here and so not enough testing is being done," another student points out. For now, they are trying to stay safe by being careful about their basic sanitation but they wish they could go home soon, before they are affected by the virus.