Melbourne University accepted expressions of interest from Friday, and within 24 hours, 1388 of 1389 students had signed up – “and one doesn’t read my emails” – said the university’s head of medical education, Professor Steve Trumble.

Monash University will soon launch a similar system for its 2000 local students.

Kevin Shi, a 22-year-old final-year Monash medicine student, is among those who have responded to the call.

“I think there’s a big sense of responsibility towards our community,” he said.

“It’s a very uncertain time for everyone, but ultimately we went into medicine and medical school to help our communities.

“Myself and many of my friends and colleagues are willing to help where it’s safe and suitable.”

Professor Michelle Leech, the head of the medicine course at Monash, said she expected Victoria’s 850 final-year students would be prioritised to bolster hospitals. The state government has already hired hundreds of medical students to conduct contact tracing.

Hospitals are also preparing to hire thousands of nurses and pharmacists to accommodate up to thousands of coronavirus hospital admissions per day in May or June.

“We have been asked by the health department to get a sense of the size of the possible workforce,” Professor Leech said.

“Our students spend three years in hospital placements, many help our healthcare system already. This won’t mean they are necessarily at the coalface with coronavirus patients wearing N95 masks, but it will keep the health system ticking along.

“They could help look after other patients who are admitted, of which there will still be hundreds in each hospital every day.”

Final-year Monash medicine student Dorothy Wang, 23, is in her third year of hospital placements.
Final-year Monash medicine student Dorothy Wang, 23, is in her third year of hospital placements.

Western Health has opened the paid, casual role of “clinical assistant” at Footscray and Sunshine hospitals to medical students.

Students will primarily perform temperature checks, follow up on test results via phone or electronically, complete routine checks of patients in wards and deliver pathology samples.

Western Health chief medical officer Paul Eleftheriou said he had received 89 applications within 24 hours of posting the jobs and hoped to have students working in the roles this week.

Final-year Monash medicine student Dorothy Wang, who has been studying at home since her aged care placement was cancelled this month, said joining the health force would be an invaluable learning experience.

“I wouldn’t say I’m nervous.” said Ms Wang, 23.

“Like anyone who’s part of the frontline, you would still need to have some level of concern – for example making sure we have the right protective equipment and supervision.

“I want to be realistic and safe … but at a time when Victoria needs us the most, I’m happy to step up.”

Professor Leech said it was important students didn’t feel obliged to participate and that their roles, including supervision, insurance and payment, were clearly defined.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the health system needed “all hands on deck as we face this unprecedented challenge”.

“It’s great to see students willing to help however they can,” she said.

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