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Meet Northern Ireland medical students thrust into frontline of coronavirus battle


Colm Davey and Rebecca Todd.

Colm Davey and Rebecca Todd.

Colm Davey and Rebecca Todd.

Thousands of medical students are getting a baptism of fire as they are fast-tracked onto the frontline to help battle Covid-19.

Students from all of Northern Ireland's colleges and universities have swapped the classroom for medical wards to do their bit during the biggest crisis the health service has ever faced.

One local college that has been in touch with many students sharing their experience of working during the pandemic is South Eastern Regional College (SERC).

Rosemary Peters, a lecturer in Health and Care at SERC, says: "They are getting fantastic support from everyone working in the NHS and they all are working with excellent teams."

Colm Davey (25) from Castlewellan was due to qualify as an ambulance practitioner in six months' time but instead has been thrown in at the deep end as part of the teams transferring intensive care unit (ICU) Covid-19 patients between hospitals.

He is working four 12-hour shifts each week in full PPE gear.

"I have been deployed to work with the Northern Ireland Specialist Transport and Retrieval Service (NISTAR) which is responsible for all the emergency transfers from ICUs of sick children and Covid patients," he reveals.

Colm Davey

"It is our job to collect patients who have been insulated and tubed from hospitals all over Northern Ireland and bring them to the new Nightingale hospital. These are all intensive care patients who are in induced comas.

"We help the nursing staff to try and get them stable to move them and it's definitely distressing. Most of the patients we are seeing are men in their 40s."

Working directly with Covid-19 patients, Colm has to wear full protective equipment which includes scrubs, a gown, an apron, two pair of gloves, a hairnet, mask and visor.

Removing the gear at the end of a shift is a careful eight-step process as this is when he is most at risk of coming into contact with the virus.

He lives alone, as his mum is unwell, and between shifts is delivering her essential goods and medication which he leaves on her doorstep.

Colm adds: "I never, ever expected I would be doing this job. I knew I would be working with sick patients but to be working with patients who are sedated and on machines which are breathing for them, and be part of a team responsible for getting them to hospital alive, is beyond what I ever imagined."

Katie Lowry

Katie Lowry (22, left) from Downpatrick is a second-year nursing student at Magee College in Londonderry and plans for a career in palliative care.

She was asked if she wanted to opt in and help out and didn't hesitate to volunteer.

Katie has been working as a 'swabber' at the Covid-19 testing centre at Ards MOT Centre where her team of three have been testing around 100 people a day, mostly NHS workers, for over a month.

The test, which can be quite invasive as it involves swabbing the back of the throat and up the nostrils, has proved challenging for the team when it comes to children.

Katie says: "We found with babies when you put the swab in their mouths they are chewing it so we have had to make them cry by putting the swab up their noses first so we can get to the back of their throat.

"We feel so terrible doing it and no one likes it but we have no choice. Young children are hard, too, but we talk to them and try and reassure them, and their parents are great."

Katie has continued her studies with online lectures and has another year before she completes her degree. Work placement as part of the course was due to start on May 18 and this will go ahead, although students have no idea yet where they will be sent.

Katie adds: "I am a bit scared about where I am going to be but if it does involve working with Covid-19 patients, I wouldn't mind as I know I will have good PPE.

"I am happy to be able to help in some way, and every Thursday when everyone is out clapping it is amazing - I find it very emotional."

Belfast Telegraph