22 December 2020
The intensity of the epidemiological situation has increased in recent weeks, as a result of which the range of tasks in which UP students can actively participate as volunteers has been constantly expanding. At first, the students of the UPMS mainly assisted the work of the National Ambulance Service in sampling: 45 students started their related activities in the first week, 85 students in the second week and 107 students from 17 November.
Another area of volunteering is the UP Clinical Center where 150-200 students work, partly in patient care and patient contact, and partly in the implementation of logistics tasks.
The third area is social charity, in which, in addition to health sciences (ETK) and pharmacy (GYTK) students, students from other university faculties are also involved from 16 November: they will help, for example, safely supervise the children of doctors or deliver food for people in quarantine. There are currently more than seventy students in this area.
The operation of the system at the Medical School has been led by dr. Miklós Nyitrai, Dean, and at the university level dr. József Betlehem, Vice-Rector performs this task. The driving forces are the students themselves: the faculty as well as the university Student Councils.
With our compilation, we would like to thank them and the volunteer students.
Written by Rita Schweier
ARNOLD KOLTAI, President of EHÖK plays a coordinating role at the institutional level towards the Ministry and the students. As he says, the coordinating role basically serves to pass on the requests and information from the Ministry and the partner organizations involved in the voluntary programs, such as the National Ambulance Service, to the students as soon as possible. Communication is two-way, in addition to student applications, weekly schedules and reporting daily headcount data, student feedback related to volunteering is also forwarded to the parties.
- How has the recruitment of students for volunteer work taken place, primarily at the faculty and university level?
- It has taken place and continues to take place at the university level, at the same time it is a huge task for the student councils of the faculties involved in medical and health education (UPMS, Faculty of Health Sciences (ETK), Faculty of Pharmacy (GYTK)). Recently, there has been a strong need to involve students from non-health trainings, and of course we are counting on the supportive work of the faculty student councils in these cases as well.
- What is the cooperation like?
- Despite the changing needs and conditions on a daily basis, I consider it excellent, everyone works hard and performs their community duty conscientiously. My appreciation and gratitude for that.
- How quickly do you manage to react to health situations, i.e. mobilise different groups of students?
- The prerequisite for a quick response is that there are human resources available who can be mobilised for organisations in an emergency, and for this, it is essential to build a massive, voluntary pool. Our experience show that student activity is significant, very many of them feel the necessity for social and community assistance and this unconditional willingness is exemplary.
- What feedback do you have from your students on volunteering?
- Patient care, sampling, driver or measurement of body temperature tasks are significantly different, therefore these are difficult to compare, but overall my colleagues find that students have a good working relationship with the staff of the organisations involved, feel the importance of their participation and the value of these tasks added to the epidemiological protection.
- What questions or requests do they address to you, what is the greatest difficulty or happiness for them?
- Students are primarily driven by the challenges of harmonising the exam period, education requirements, and volunteering. In our experience, the leaderships of the faculties involved are flexible enough to deal with the situation, they are trying to find a solution to the questions that arise. I believe - and many volunteers agree - that in the present situation they can gain valuable practical experience they would otherwise not have the opportunity to gain. This additional knowledge will accompany them later in their careers as well. The difficulty in most cases is caused by the hunger for information arising from our rapidly changing environment, unfortunately we have to learn to live with it, but we are trying to find reassuring answers to all questions as soon as possible.
- How successful do you consider the things happened so far in organizing volunteering?
- I believe that the more than five hundred registered students involved in less than three weeks, the volunteers working in disciplined, weekly shifts prove the success of the program in themselves. Unfortunately, the virus does not rest, so the changing epidemiological situation induces a continuous change with new tasks and challenges but considering the tendency of applications I am optimistic that we will successfully overcome all the obstacles ahead.
Since March, BERNADETT KÁLMÁN has been the “logistics engine” of the recruitment of volunteer students at the Medical School. According to her, the UP-HOTLINE student helpline set up at the beginning by the University of Pécs Clinical Center Department of Emergency Medicine was a great initiative. The proper operation of the system required volunteer students and she was at the forefront of the process in this regard.
- How do you do this work in everyday life? What are the ways and means of recruitment?
- Each new request is a new recruitment project. The beginning of the process is usually hectic because time is pressing, we have to act quickly, but over time an order is established, and everything becomes disciplined. The key to success is close teamwork. The UPMS Student Council and the University Student Union (EHÖK) have been fighting jointly since March. Everyone has their own role and strength in the team, we already know each other well. Calls are often posted to online platforms in minutes, often at night. Sometimes we contact students via email, but there has also been an example of us organising a Teams conference to reach students as quickly and efficiently as possible. I think it is important that students reach out to students, making communication more direct and effective. Fortunately, as the situation worsens, more and more students are applying.
- How do you get information about how many students are needed and in what areas?
- By the end of the summer, the beginning of the autumn, a communication chain has been set up: the healthcare units notify the Clinical Center, and then its contact person notifies the Head of Cabinet of the EHÖK and me of the needs. Based on these, a call and an application form are prepared, which is then posted on the social media platforms of the EHÖK and the UPMS Student Council. In parallel, medical students are notified on all possible channels that a new call has been launched. In case of an urgent need, we also receive requests by phone, in which case we try to reach the medical students and our peers studying in the field of health even faster. This means daily collaboration with student leaders from the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Pharmacy.
- Which areas do students favour the most to volunteer for?
- Both the field of clinical patient care and the field of population screening are equally popular. We can feel the dedication and love for the profession of all our volunteers. Everyone helps where it is needed, with great humility and commitment. It is touching when hundreds offer a helping hand immediately. I am proud of our community; I see this kind of collaboration as a rare treasure.
- In your opinion how well can you bear the psychological burden of these tasks?
- We all have more difficult periods, we can get very tired but luckily, we form a team not only as co-workers but also as friends, so we always take each other’s hands when needed. We can openly express our anger, our sadness towards each other and together we find the better mood, the motivation again. We bear the burden together like a family.
MÁRK HORVÁTH, a fifth-year medical student volunteered for sampling at the National Ambulance Service from 2 November and is currently under training at the Coronavirus Care Center.
- How did the sampling process go?
- I went to the given address, filled out the necessary documents, informed the patient about the procedure, then about when they can expect the result, took the sample, documented it too, and then delivered it to the ambulance station, from where it was transferred to the laboratory in Pécs.
- What time did the work start?
- We started sampling around 8 a.m. after the ambulance staff informed us where we were going and how many people were expecting us that day. In Kaposvár, the samples were taken by one man who also drove the car, in other cases these two roles were separated. Sometimes I managed to finish at six in the evening, but there were also cases when I finished at ten.
- It must have been tiring.
- Yes, it was, mainly because we had to wear protective equipment all day. You could sweat a lot in it. I usually ate in the morning and in the evening because during the day this was only possible if I came across an ambulance station where they could disinfect.
- How could this be endured for hours, days? With commitment, with love?
- I think everyone who chooses healthcare as a profession is a little crazy - in a positive sense. Our motivation is to help people because it feels good to us. Right now, we can do our best if we help the ambulance personnel so that they can go in case of accidents, other serious incidents.
- Were the patients understanding, willing?
- Absolutely, they were glad I arrived.
- Even if nasal sampling cannot be considered pleasant?"
- Yes. They handled it quite well because I told them the whole thing was just a moment and could be endured.
We talked during the completion of the documents and the preparation of the sampling because it was important that they understood what it was all about, why they had to stay at home in this situation, and last but not least, that they calmed down. Many people looked at us with great respect and even felt sorry for us. I have good experience only. We were able to get to the smallest villages in addition to the big cities, thus we could meet a wide variety of people, from small children to elderly, bedridden patients.
- Was there a situation that you could not handle or resolve?
- It happened once that I got to the given location late at night and they no longer opened the door for me. I could understand it too because it is difficult that you cannot eat and drink at least two hours before sampling. Although we informed people in advance when we would arrive, we were not always able to stick to the schedule. Of course, we paid special attention to the diabetics because they have to eat on time.
- Were there any difficulties during the sampling process?
- Only if the patient had a nasal septum deviation or nasal polyp, but usually I managed to get deep enough in one of the nostrils.
- You are no longer helping in this area, but you are volunteering at the Coronavirus Care Center.
- Yes, the lower-year students have taken our place in sampling, so I have been training in the other area for a week, helping out in caring for ventilated people in the intensive care unit. It consists of cleaning the ventilators, handling the infusion, turning, and moving the patients. It is an auxiliary nursing task, in which there are shifts every three, three and a half hours, we work in a rotation system.
- The most burdensome thing about this may be that there is no contact with the patients.
- Yes, it is really hard, we do not know how well we are doing our job, and it is psychologically stressful as well, but luckily, we also support each other mentally.
I would like to work as a hospital doctor in the future, traumatology and surgery are attractive, so being in the intensive care unit is very exciting for me. The epidemiological situation gives me the opportunity as a fifth-year student to see how a hospital works and be an integral part of what is happening there.
- How many days a week do you spend there?
- Two or three because I have to deal with my studies as well.
- What do your girlfriend and parents say about volunteering? Do they worry about you?
- They are worried of course but at the same time they accept that I have to do this now, and I should be the one close to the patients rather than the elderly doctors or nurses.
BENCE PYTEL, a fifth-year medical student volunteered as early as March, at the time of the first wave of the epidemic but was not yet required to actively participate at the time. However, from the beginning of November, his help was used first at the National Ambulance Service and then at the Coronavirus Care Center.
- On the first day, 48 of us met at the Expo Center, those who were asked to volunteer by the university, not only UPMS students but also students from the ETK. First, they thanked us for our help, and then the reserve police officers took everyone to the county where they were assigned. Our university supplied seven counties, I am from Pécs so I was assigned to Baranya, together with six other students. We participated in an all-day training on how to put on the protective equipment, how sampling takes place, what the steps of PCR test are, how to store the sample, and how to fill in the journey form for cars. Both the disaster management and the police offered cars for this purpose, a total of six were available to us.
Every morning we were informed about where we were assigned, there were several options for that. One of us was always present at the Expo Center who took the samples every ten minutes, and there were also mobile screening points in the larger cities, Komló, Mohács, Szigetvár, where we also performed the screenings every ten minutes. Of course, there were also people who could not come to these points, in that case we went to their house. There were cases when we were the drivers and the samplers at the same time, but it also occurred that an ambulance personnel colleague drove the car. We travelled a lot when for example we also went to Mágocs, it meant nearly two hundred kilometres, however, we could not take more than ten samples. Our tactic was that we always went to the farthest address first. We stopped there, got dressed, took the first samples, and from there we went on in protective clothing and shield. It was not easy to drive because the glasses and shield were constantly fogging up due to the warm air coming up from the mask, but luckily, we fixed that too.
The protective equipment provided great security despite its inconvenience. In a store, wearing a surgical mask, I see a much better chance of catching the virus than when dressed in protective equipment, among confirmed positive or suspicious patients.
We worked an average of 12 hours from Monday to Friday, but sometimes we finished earlier and of course, later as well. The point was to take the right number of samples.
- How long have you volunteered there?
- Only in the first week of November. Since I did not need a special medical degree to do this, I decided to assist in active patient care and transferred to the intensive care unit of the Coronavirus Care Center. My first shift was on 12 November there. At first, I worked a lot, every other day, but now I can only take one or two shifts a week because of my studies and upcoming exams. Fortunately, there are enough students to help, we can schedule well who should be present and when. This work also lasts 12 hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. I chose night shifts because of my studies and also because I am more of that type.
The number of nurses is finite, with one, ideally two in each ward, and nurses also come from other departments and there are we, the helpers. We try to take care of things according to their instructions, which means we replace the expired syringe in the perfusor, perform parameterization, prepare the patients' medications if necessary, dilute them, turn, and transfer the patients, we feed them with formula through a nasogastric tube.
- I guess it must have been difficult when you first entered this department, and it cannot be easy to see these seriously ill patients today either.
- Yes, because I have not had any experience in this before, and it is stressful to see so many people being ventilated. The situation of some of them seemed hopeless, but sometimes they managed to get weaned from the ventilator, and that gave us all a lot of strength.
Hats off to the doctors and the nursing staff because despite the difficult situation, they manage to maintain an exceptionally good work ethic and they fight with the greatest effort for everyone. Moreover, in the first two shifts, we were less able to help them due to our inexperience, but they nevertheless treated us with an incredibly good attitude and patience and taught us. We students take this as a unique opportunity because under normal circumstances, we would certainly not learn that much in such a practical way. This gives us enough motivation for each shift. Everyone knows why they are there, and they do their job in an exemplary fashion. Of course, it is also a big test, but it only reinforces us that we have chosen our profession well.
- Can you rest and unwind after a harder day?
- Yes. It helps a lot that everyone in my family works in healthcare, so if I have a question or need reassurance, I can always turn to them. It is good to be able to talk about these events, and they stand by me.
BÁLINT GLÁZER, a fifth-year psychology student - who is the chairman of the Student Council of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences - has had a license for six years and has been actively driving ever since, so he thought primarily he would choose driving as a voluntary activity. He could not talk about his experience yet because he was not working at the time of our conversation, but he only had to wait a few days for that.
- Technically, how did you apply?
- On the EHÖK website, I filled in the volunteer application form. There, they indicate that students not studying in the field of health have three choices: to transport luggage on foot between healthcare institutions in Pécs, to measure people’s body temperature when entering institutions, and to drive a car, thus helping the work of the National Ambulance Service. In addition to driving a car, I also applied for the institutional temperature measurement, but I have not received a request yet, presumably because many people have applied for this area.
- What will driving mean in practice?
- We will be working in Baranya county, according to my information the Police Headquarters will provide vehicles for this, which will accommodate several people, including health and non-health students. My peers will do targeted testing in public education institutions, all I have to do is take them from point A to point B. There is a Monday to Friday schedule, and one for the weekend as well, I will be going from Monday to Friday. The Student Council students who coordinate the work will discuss with us in advance by phone or e-mail which week works for us. I will start next week. For this period, the preferential course schedule will apply, which can be requested from the Registrar’s Office, although I will not need this because I only have four courses this semester and I am doing well with my dissertation. So, in addition to studying, I have plenty of time to help, make myself useful.
- What motivated you the most to help?
- It has always been important for me to take on public life and social roles, and I was bothered by the fact that for a long time at the beginning of the epidemic, people's individual responsibility, which is especially important in this situation, could not be felt enough.
- I am not surprised you think that as a psychology student.
- I think my empathy skills are good, it also acts as a driving force in similar situations. And also the fact that I have been living in Hungary, in Pécs for five years, I came here from Slovakia to study, I have had a partner for two years, who is now my fiancée, and since we plan to stay here for a long time, I pay attention to what happens in my environment and also participate in them. It is very good to see that many of my fellow students have also volunteered and together with them, I would also like to serve as an example.
- Do you feel any excitement about the new situation and challenge?
- No, basically I am not the excited type, I rarely discover that I am anxious. I love challenges and have no problem with my self-confidence.
Thanks to all volunteer students for their help!