Wits University final year medical students return to campus after the updated regulations from the Minister of Higher Education.

Final year Wits medical students have started to return to campus since Monday, May 11, under carefully controlled conditions to ensure their safety. While the students are expected to assist with efforts against covid-19, they are not expected to come into any direct contact with covid-19 patients. 

“We are not going to put students in direct contact with patients who are infected by the coronavirus, but we are going to make sure at all health environments they are very comfortable about the use of personal protective equipment’s and things they might have difficulties with, we going to give them emergency supplies,” said Prof Martin Veller, the dean of the faculty of health sciences.  

The faculty of health sciences says it is fully prepared to take the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of students during their practicals and their attendance. “We are going to have physical distancing, we are going to ask people to wear masks, in open spaces they [the students] need to manage the usual hygiene issues and not to congregate in groups,” Prof Veller said.  

All students are expected to do their rotations in various hospitals across southern Gauteng that are selected by the faculty of health sciences, including the Helen Joseph Academic Hospital, Veller said. He added that there is going to be a significant benefit for the students to be on the health platforms during this time. “The real benefit from our perspective is that they get exposed to what a health system under strained circumstances is all about,” Veller said. “Training in the health sciences is experiential, and while we try to get people broad experiences, there are some things we can’t do normally, so this is an extraordinary opportunity,” Veller said.

Veller said that the students are not compelled to return to Wits and if they choose not to, the faculty will find ways of allowing them to complete their academic programme at a later stage.  “The important component is that they are invited, we are not forcing anyone to come back and for whatever reason, someone doesn’t come back, we will have an engagement with them to find a way that they can then complete the course at a later stage without prejudice, we cannot then let them progress unless they’ve done the work,” said Veller.  

A final year student MBBCh medical student, Rubina Valodia,  from Johannesburg, said she is prepared to go to school because they [the students] were given an extra rotation week before the classes should start. This was to ensure that they take precautions and fully prepare both physically and mentally.

“I feel a bit anxious about uncertainly surrounding going back but I’m grateful we do get-go back so that we get a chance to complete our degree by the end of the year which is really important.”

Valodia said she will start with her psychiatry practicals this week, and she feels that she will be in a low-risk area of being contacted with coronavirus because they are not allowed to be near covid 19 wards. 

 A final year MBBCh student, Steve Kamba from Wits Junction said he was always eager to resume his practicals and take part in helping fight the virus. “Any delays to resume the program will have meant that South Africa doesn’t have new doctors joining the workforce come January 2021,” Kamba said.  

Some of the 456 returning students will be accommodated on a self-catering basis at the Wits Junction residence in Parktown while 142 students on the Mandela Castro programme will be housed at the Wit Waters building and at some local hospitals. This is according to a statement released by the university’s Senior Executive Team (SET) on May 8. The rest are expected to commute from home. 

The Director of Campus Housing and Residence Life, Basil Mugwena, said “Majority of rooms at Junction are self-contained studios units, which means each student will be housed in their own room with a refrigerator, stove and even own ablution facilities,” he told Wits Vuvuzela. “Staff and students have been provided with masks and gloves for their exclusive use during their stay,” he added.

The SET’s statement stated that residences and all facilities, including university buses have been decontaminated and “all students and employees will be expected to complete a confidential screening questionnaire every day (using an app) before being allowed onto campus. Temperature screenings may be undertaken at the gates if this becomes necessary for any reason,” the statement said. Students and staff who are not staying on the res, are advised to be physically screened at the campus health clinic before and after their shifts and to adhere to rigorous measures that are in line with all the lockdown regulations. 

FEATURED IMAGE: Final year medical students at Wits University have been invited to return to campus to complete the academic programme. Photo: File (2019).