‘I’d go back to the corona ward in a heartbeat’

Medical internship during a pandemic

‘I’d go back to the corona ward in a heartbeat’

The coronavirus is a disaster of global proportions, but it’s also a unique opportunity for medical students who are doing their internships in the middle of a pandemic. What have the past few months been like for them?
By Bente van Leeuwen
30 November om 15:50 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 1 December 2020
om 15:01 uur.
November 30 at 15:50 PM.
Last modified on December 1, 2020
at 15:01 PM.

‘I’m happy we were allowed back, and that we’re learning about the impact the virus has on health care’, says Lisa Havinga, who’s doing her internship at the Wilhelmina Ziekenhuis in Assen. ‘It would be weird to completely leave us out of the loop.’

When the corona crisis started, internships for first- and second-year medical students were postponed, but they’ve since been welcomed back into hospitals. What is it like to do your internship during a pandemic, a situation that even experienced health care workers have never dealt with before?  

Not stressful

Before she started, Lisa was worried about ending up in a stressful clinical situation, but it wasn’t all that bad: ‘You get used to it. People are a little more on guard, but I’d expected more stress and excitement.’ 

She has seen the damage that’s been done by curtailing regular health care, she says. ‘I’ve heard stories about patients who were afraid to come in for months, which means they’re doing much worse now.’

Lisa is also impressed by how flexible the hospital, an enormous organisation, can be. ‘There are some issues obviously, like with angry visitors, bad connections, or questions about how long quarantine should last. The situation is really different from that during the first wave, but on the whole, it’s admirable how quickly everyone adapted to this way of working.’


Niels Schipper is doing his internship at Medisch Spectrum Twente. ‘One of the most important things I’ve learned so far is how to properly put on and take off personal protection equipment’, he says. ‘You have to do it in a specific order, to minimise the risk of infection.’

It’s admirable how quickly everyone adapted 

Lynn Rozendal, who is doing her internship at the ZGT Almelo, says students getting infected is an acceptable risk. ‘It’s part of our future job. You know there’s a possibility, but I also think students should help wherever they can. Our job starts even before we get our diplomas.’

Lynn was doing her internship on the intensive care unit when the second wave hit. ‘For the first two weeks, there weren’t that many corona patients and I was able to observe the normal state of things at the ICU’, she says. But then half the unit became a corona ward. ‘It was really educational, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. It was really interesting to see how they cared for corona patients who were on ventilators. I learned how to turn someone on a ventilator onto their stomach.’

Fewer internships

The students may be learning a lot from the corona crisis, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its disadvantages. Some internships were cancelled to ensure the wait times for other students were shorter. Niels: ‘This means I won’t be able to do an intensive care or gynaecology internships. Because the programme has been cut short, we’ve been forced to choose, since we also have to do a number of mandatory internships.’

More things are handled over the phone or online, and because of the social distancing rules, interns can’t always sit in on face-to-face appointments. This means the students deal less with patients. ‘Our learning curve depends on the number of patients we’re able to talk to and examine’, explains Niels. ‘It’s also more difficult to follow our patients or discuss them during multidisciplinary meetings.’ 


Lisa also says the things you can learn in a hospital right now varies per department. ‘Interns at the pulmonary ward are learning the most about covid care. Interns at cardiology mainly experience the backlog resulting from the reduced regular health care during the first wave. Some interns spend a lot of time sitting next to a doctor on the phone, or they’ve noticed that GPs refer fewer people.’ 

She has a positive attitude, though: ‘On the whole, everyone is pretty busy, and no one’s really “lost” their internship.’



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