The platform for Belgium's international community

Search form

menu menu
  • Daily & Weekly newsletters
  • Buy & download The Bulletin
  • Comment on our articles

Students vital as healthcare system feels the strain of coronavirus

14:05 23/03/2020
From Flanders Today

While most university students have been sent home because of the coronavirus, those studying nursing and other healthcare disciplines are being urged to go ahead with internships and other work placements. The only condition is that the hospitals protect the students as they would their regular staff.

“All internships in the second, third and fourth phase of nursing bachelor’s programmes should go ahead,” reads the advice from the Flemish government. “This is absolutely necessary due to the shortage of nursing staff.”

If a hospital decides not to go ahead with an internship, then the student should be offered a place elsewhere. Meanwhile, nursing students due to have internships abroad should be found places closer to home, while those not planning internships are encouraged to volunteer.

AP University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Antwerp is supporting its nursing, midwifery and other medical students who want to continue with internships. “AP is not only being asked by the healthcare institutions for extra hands, but a lot of nursing students indicate that they want to continue to help in this situation,” said Pascale De Groote, director of the college.

The University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Ghent (HoGent) is also encouraging biomedical technology students to continue their internships alongside nurses. “These people are much needed in hospitals and labs, so we leave it to the students to decide whether or not they continue their internships,” the college says. “We very much appreciate the social engagement of the students who choose to do so.”

Nursing students in the first phase of their training must find alternatives or delay their placements. “Some hospitals and healthcare institutions want to focus on urgent matters and not be distracted by the need to guide inexperienced students,” the government says.

However it suggests that inexperienced students could take on support roles or non-nursing tasks, freeing up nursing staff for the business of caring for patients.

This is also the idea behind a pop-up employment agency set up by medical students at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). During the first day, almost 200 students registered as volunteers, mainly from disciplines such as medicine, biomedical sciences, pharmacy and physiotherapy. They will now be deployed in logistical and administrative roles, freeing up medical staff.

Secondary school students due to have placements in the healthcare sector can also go ahead if they want to. One example, reported by VRT, is at the Oscar Romero College in Dendermonde, which has let final years studying home and elderly care go through with their placements.

“At first we suspended everything, but the staff in the healthcare sector are currently up to their necks in it, so we thought it a pity to deprive them of these extra helping hands,” said school director Tomas De Wilde. It would also benefit pupils not to interrupt their courses. “Now they are getting exceptional experience in the field.”

The situation is less promising for students in other sectors, where universities have been told to follow the guidelines of the employers hosting the internships. That means some students will get their work experience working from home.

Photo courtesy Erasmus Hogeschool

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)