A letter to the CMD
By Julian Pecora
JCU medical students are trying to remain abreast of the evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) situation for personal, clinical, and placement planning purposes. There are widespread concerns for the implications of coronavirus on course requirements and JCUMSA would kindly ask the CMD to open clear avenues of communication with students. Our priority is to ensure students feel supported and fully informed when making decisions involving their studies, which includes having access to assistance in making these decisions.
The primary concern amongst students is the repercussions for clinical requirements, particularly given the tight schedules for completion of coursework across all years. In light of this concern amongst others, we would appreciate advice and action from the CMD. JCUMSA would like to assist the CMD in doing this by highlighting the issues that have been brought to us by concerned students.
Immediate, short term concerns:
- Students in 5th and 6th year currently on international placements, or who are planning to be in the coming weeks. These students may be required to undertake significant quarantine measures or face unforeseen changes to travel and placement as a result. We ask that these students have a consistent, supportive point of contact within the CMD who they can discuss their concerns with. These students are also seeking advice on the College’s/JCU’s insurance coverage for placements and how this may be impacted. Finally, in the event that a student contracts COVID-19 and requires medical assistance, a clear, pre-prepared protocol would be ideal. We do understand that some students have been contacted, but we would appreciate if all students currently or planning to travel abroad be contacted, perhaps achieved by a common message the entire student body.
- We have heard from some students that the CMD have kindly organised alternative arrangements at the appropriate clinical sites due to sudden cancellation of electives. JCUMSA would politely request that this option is communicated to all students whose placements have been directly impacted by COVID-19 so that concerns surrounding completion of course requirements are allayed.
- Quarantine and the leave policy: We seek clarification as to whether students who are quarantined will have this time waived given the exceptional circumstances, or if this will be taken from their sick leave, potentially requiring remediation. Also, how will this apply to students wishing to visit and care for affected family members?
“…The primary concern amongst students is the repercussions for clinical requirements, particularly given the tight schedules for completion of coursework across all years…”
- COVID-19 has become a concern for students planning or scheduled to embark on their international placements later this year. Given the nature of permissible placements across the six year levels, this would foreseeably be applicable to first, second, third, fifth and sixth year students. We do understand this is not quite as time-critical as the aforementioned group, however, the financial and practical implications remain the same for both groups. Therefore, we would love, to see these students receive advice on how their planned placement +/- travel arrangements are likely to be impacted and the implications to their studies.
- There is a non-trivial possibility of COVID-19 also hindering domestic placements and requirements. While, at present, the risk posed to North Queensland is low, there exists a possibility that students could be exposed while on placement. We would be grateful to know if a protocol is being considered to manage this scenario, should it occur.
- How will strategies vary (if at all) for higher-risk students, e.g. those immunocompromised who may be at increased risk of contracting or transmitting the virus?
As we are currently unsure of the exact nature of recent measures taken by the CMD, we would like to recommend a published protocol/structure defining personnel and their roles in managing the impact of COVID on the medical course, staff and students. This will assist in the provision of consistent communication to all stakeholders.
Students would appreciate Situation Reports on the CMD’s approach to assisting students currently impacted and those likely to be affected by COVID-19. This will provide additional guidance to 3 students in taking the correct precautions for their placements. We understand that this is an evolving situation but as students we want to make informed decisions and participate in active, informed communication. We appreciate the CMD are taking action, we simply want to be aware of this action.
In addition to the above, JCUMSA would appreciate an update from the CMD given to all students regarding COVID-19 as soon as possible. Given the scale of the outbreak and its increasing imprint in Australia, we would hope this could occur by the end of the week. We in JCUMSA feel obliged to break the silence that has occurred thus far and, if the College feels it cannot provide some official, substantive communication within the coming days, we would at least request that students are formally notified that the College is aware of concerns, is working on the matter and, lastly, when students can expect further information.
Finally, we ask that any student who feels they are currently impacted can be directed to a nominated CMD contact person who will be able to manage direct communication with these students. There will need to be a process of triaging students, as some are currently quarantined, whereas others are justifiably concerned about significant financial commitments for future travel. Continual follow-up with these students will be necessary in order to provide alternative arrangements and maintain communication.
While JCUMSA staunchly represents and advocates for all JCU medical students, we acknowledge the unprecedented haste of COVID-19 and the sudden pressure on the CMD to respond appropriately. In addition to the above requests, JCUMSA would also like to offer its unconditional assistance to the CMD in communication, support for students and in any other manner that may be beneficial. As the trajectory of the outbreak remains largely uncertain, we may find ourselves working closely in partnership for the welfare of not only students but the very operations of the course itself. We appreciate your consideration of these issues and are committed to uniting the CMD and student body in managing the evolving situation.
Note: this document was originally published on March 3rd, 2020.