"Thrown in at the deep end" - The participation of medical and health science students in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic

Anna Mária Bartal - Ágnes J. Lukács


The response to the COVID-19 pandemic has severely overwhelmed the healthcare systems all around the world. In Hungary, the public health department has adopted an unprecedented two-tiered approach to engage medical and health science students in the fight against the pandemic through a combination of volunteering and mandatory secondment. The main objective of our study is to examine the mandatory participation of Hungarian medical and health science students and their secondments (activity, preparation, safety, and areas of activity) and to analyse and summarise their experiences. We also describe the latent factors of the secondment process and its impact on the training process. Our online survey respondents (N=408) and interviewees (N=13) were selected from those general practitioner, dentist, pharmacist, and health science students who had participated in at least one secondment. The following two factors shaped the students' secondment experiences: how far advanced were the students in their studies and what was the operation they became involved in. The students' feedback indicated organisational problems and information asymmetry as the negative and gaining experience and professional development as the positive outcome of the secondments. Our analysis indicates that the secondment, as a system, was possible to improve, but the process was accompanied by a multi-level information deficit. Medical and health science students are a valuable resource in the fight against the pandemic, even though their experiences during the secondment highlight the crucial role of professional preparation and psychological support, as well as the need to encourage volunteering.

Keywords: COVID-19 pandemic, medical students, health students, hospital volunteers, secondment, online education and training, internship, positive and negative experiences,