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This article was published 31/3/2020 (535 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Hundreds of health-care professionals-in-training have found themselves on the front lines of a pandemic after the province put out calls to boost personnel numbers.
So far, nearly 600 students from the University of Manitoba have volunteered their time to participate in the COVID-19 response.
The volunteers have taken on roles ranging from managing patient flow at screening sites to collecting unused personal protective equipment to babysitting and running errands for time-crunched doctors. Many of them have had their practicums put on hold due to health concerns.
Francis Arevalo has been answering phone calls for Health Links, screening callers for COVID-19 symptoms and — if they meet the ever-changing criteria — referring them to community testing sites. He has already completed 40 hours of volunteer service, which counts towards his academic community service requirement, in recent weeks.
"It’s a learning opportunity for me, as well as it really helps with your rapport skills as a nurse. You have a distressed individual on the other end not knowing what to do and you have to help them calm down, work with them and at the same time, get the job done with the calls," said Arevalo, a fourth-year nursing student.
Provincial health officials have repeatedly directed Manitobans concerned about their risk of contracting the virus to contact Health Links (204-788-8200). Only patients who have received a referral can access the 16 community testing sites open to the public.
In response to an increase in calls, Health Links has quadrupled its staff. There are now more than 100 phone lines in use and at least 16 U of M nursing students have been offered paid work to answer calls.
During an average eight-hour shift, fourth-year nursing student Thomas Koop talks to approximately 60 Manitobans on the phone. The queue is lighter in the early hours of the morning, but Koop said callers still ring him at 3 a.m. to avoid the backlog during the day or out of concern about a child’s breathing during the night.
"Being so close to graduating, I just have a real sense of wanting to get my hands dirty with this and wanting to help out anyway I can," said Koop, adding the appreciation patients express on the other end of the line motivates him.
Students in all corners of the province are offering up their expertise to meet a heightened demand for health-care services.
In northern Manitoba, a total of 14 nursing students at the University College of the North are volunteering at COVID-19 screening sites and testing centres. About 27 senior nursing and psychiatric nursing students at Brandon University have signed up to help wherever needed.
Fourteen Red River College students in the Health Information Management program have also offered up their skills to work in Manitoba Health’s epidemiology and surveillance unit.
The students are doing data-collection of COVID-19 cases in the province, tracking the backlogged positive and negative results, as well as follow-ups with Manitobans who might be at risk of community transmission.
Amanda Burridge, the program co-ordinator at Red River, described the students as "data-entry experts." Their logged hours will go towards their practicum — and Burridge estimates there will be no shortage of work in the coming weeks.
"As the testing capacity increases in the province, they’re going to be a very busy group of students."
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.