Medical students waiting for vaccines, despite front-line work in hospitals

A nurse administers the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to a member of the medical staff at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center in La Baule, France, February 17, 2021. PHOTO BY STEPHANE MAHE /REUTERS

Medical students at uOttawa say they feel like second-class citizens because they are still waiting for COVID-19 vaccines, despite working in high-risk settings.

“Our students have been working in the hospitals and other health-care settings since October. The majority of us have not received even one dose of any of the COVID vaccines. Worse than this, we have received little to no information from our faculty,” wrote one student who asked not to be identified.

Third-year medical students do mainly on-the-job learning in hospitals and other health-care settings, including long-term care homes. Fourth-year students are usually part of a residents matching system and rotate through specialties, but the system has been disrupted by the pandemic.

The student who spoke to this newspaper said medical students who work in healthcare as part of a clerkship “are told that we are a vital part of the front line and yet we are not vaccinated and have no idea when we will be.”

She said students are often not provided with the appropriate personal protective equipment when working in health-care settings and are not always made aware of patients’ COVID status until they have seen them.

Medical students are “frustrated and scared.”

Some of that frustration spilled on to social media this week when numerous students expressed fear and anxiety because of the lack of communication about when they will get vaccinated.

“Some of our classmates on internal medicine worked on floors with COVID outbreaks. On these floors they were seeing patients directly, but were seemingly the only ones on the floor not to be vaccinated. There are non-patient seeing staff who have gotten both vaccines,” wrote one student on social media.

The fact that hospital staff facing less risk have been vaccinated first makes front-line students feel like second-class citizens, they said.

And medical students say their counterparts from other medical schools, including University of Toronto and McMaster, have been vaccinated.

Part of the students’ frustration stems from the fact that there has been so little communication about when to expect a vaccine.

Students have been told their turn is coming and that they should keep their phones on and be ready. But one student said the lack of detail and fears that they might miss their turn has added to their stress.

“It is really taking a toll on all of us. There is just heightened fear going in and not knowing whether you are going to see someone with COVID and get it and bring it home to your family.”

Some uOttawa medical students — those in the francophone stream working at Montfort Hospital — have been offered the vaccine. But the majority, who worked at The Ottawa Hospital and elsewhere, have not.

A spokewoman for The Ottawa Hospital said medical students are being vaccinated according to the provincial ethical framework “as is the case with all members of the health-care team.”

Students are in phase 1 of the framework, added TOH spokeswoman Michaela Schreiter, “and therefore patient-facing medical students will be vaccinated based on their availability and when they are scheduled to work in the hospital.”