Yes, they should.
400-level Medicine & Surgery
University of Ibadan
When the coronavirus outbreak started in Wuhan, China sometime in November 2019 and its news trickled down to Nigeria, it sounded like something distant or foreign. Then it was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) in January and hence became something of concern. It was still relatively easy to deal with this news though because the numbers had not hit home; it felt like a bad dream that would soon go away—well, till the first case in Nigeria was recorded on February 27, 2020, in Lagos.
As the numbers blew up, we clearly saw the need for a lockdown. This lockdown meant the closure of places of worship, some offices, and of course, schools, among many others. The closure of schools implied that students across all levels of learning had to stay at home. Medical students moved from a life of constant motion, punctuated by moments of intense percussion, to a relative state of inertia where time, t, spent in this state potentially ran from a few weeks to infinity.
Among medical students, this compulsory break hit those in final year hardest. Many were months away from being medical doctors, others, a few weeks. The finish line that seemed so close some months ago now looks out of sight. They are left red-eyed as they see students from other medical schools around the world announce their graduation on various social media platforms, typing ‘congratulations’ under such posts but saying ‘God when?’ in their hearts. After about four months cooped up in our houses, the realization that we had to learn to live with the virus hit us—we just had to move on. We have slowly eased the lockdown: various gatherings are allowed as long as strict protocols are followed, but the educational system is still at a standstill, or relatively so for those lucky enough to have online classes.
While the fears associated with opening up the educational system at once are understandable, final-year medical students should be exempted from these fears. They should be allowed to resume and snag their long-awaited MBBS degrees. Why?
- We need more doctors. A Friday, 20th March, 2020 report by The Guardian stated that final-year medical students across the United Kingdom were being graduated early by their universities to join the frontline in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, exams were cancelled. When this news reached the ears of many of their compeers in Nigeria, their hearts were saddened rather than filled with hope, because they knew that such could not happen in this part of the world. The coronavirus pandemic has shown that there can never be too many doctors. The strain which it put on various health systems around the world would be felt for quite some time, but a step in the right direction would be to allow our final-year medical students to resume and hence, graduate. Indeed, the doctors available are not properly remunerated, and the necessary equipment is not being provided, but that is a different problem that requires a different solution. After all, if locking down medical schools were the solution to this, we should have kept our medical schools under lock and key for years now since this has been a persistent problem. Our final-year medical students should be allowed to finish their medical school journey and bolster our patient-doctor ratio.
- It is the best way to start opening up the educational system, slowly. We cannot truly say we have started living with the virus if our tertiary institutions are still closed. And so if we would open them, as we should, final-year medical students should be the first to resume. This is because they are most knowledgeable in the field and are more likely to follow all required protocols. While it has been said that online training could be conducted, nothing can replace real-life interactions with patients. Of course, these interactions would have to be limited to ensure safety and both the patients and medical students tested for the virus. In cases where this is impossible, necessary protocols would be followed strictly. Our final-year medical students should be allowed to resume as it would be vital as a model on how resumption of other students should work.
In conclusion, the point here is not that our fears should be discarded. They are definitely within reason but we should source for workable solutions, of which the continued staying at home of our final-year medical students is not one of them. What happens if these numbers keep increasing? Will they remain at home forever? No, they cannot; therefore, we must not delay the inevitable.
No, they shouldn’t.
600-level Medicine & Surgery
University of Ilorin
All schools in Nigeria were closed down on the 17th of March, 2020, in a bid to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in the nation after two more positive cases were recorded in two states. This decision affected medical schools, even though several final-year medical students were about to write their terminal exams and claim the much-coveted MB; BS degree. Nearly four months later, with no cure or vaccine in sight, it seems that medical schools will have to be kept closed for a much longer time, which has now raised the question, “Should final-year medical students be allowed to resume?” In this piece, I argue against this proposed resumption because I believe Nigeria is in a crisis, and all of our decisions as a country must pull every one of us out of it rather than plunge us any deeper.
As at the time of this writing, Nigeria has recorded over 35,000 cases in all 36 states and a minimum daily climb of about 500 cases, a number that public health experts believe is grossly underrepresented. This data clearly suggests that the threat COVID-19 posed at the time this decision was taken has only grown worse, and definitely much worse for the final-year medical students (FYMS) who will inadvertently be brought to the frontline of this battle if asked to resume. It is only reasonable that the decision to keep medical schools closed be overturned only when the threat is less, or in the implementation of a viable solution. It is also important to note that the ordinary measures such as physical distancing and hand-washing that may be implemented for non-clinical students are inadequate for the clinical students what with the higher risk of exposure within the hospital walls.
Before the FYMS can resume, it is only fair that, at the very least, a ‘COVID-19 Control Policy for Medical Students’ be issued by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria and enforced in all medical schools. This is necessary because if FYMS are made to resume, they will be faced with as much risk as other health workers and yet have no form of insurance whatsoever, not even a stipend of hazard allowances. Unfortunately, there are still no discussions about this protection of medical students and to make this worse, our daily news headlines are stories of infected health workers and industrial actions by doctors demanding to be protected. It is my unreserved opinion that a nation which has not succeeded in protecting her health workers has no business putting the more vulnerable FYMS under such risk by asking them to resume.
Further emphasising the need to be intentional about our decisions during this time of crisis, the truth is that deciding to ask only FYMS to resume is not a solution. We have to consider that COVID-19 may be here to stay, and living with COVID-19 requires that we be more creative and serious with our systems and reject non-sustainable and inefficient methods. For medical education to be efficient during this pandemic, it will require a strengthening of our hospitals so that patients, a necessary resource for learning, can be trusting of our hospitals again—and this is far from our current reality.
There are, however, cogent realities that demand the resumption of medical students which we cannot ignore. One is the fact that many medical students need only complete their final exams to become doctors. Another is that our health sector is in dire need of more medical doctors to bridge the gap, even if it does not realise it. But these problems require far more than the resumption of FYMS. Nevertheless, the most important criteria to consider is the safety of these students, which a lot of our institutions are not capable of providing presently. It is, therefore, my conviction that unless all stakeholders in medical education do all that is necessary to make our schools safe again, they should remain closed to all students.