COVID-19: Bordeaux medical students active during the sanitary crisis

At the height of the Coronavirus pandemic, the entire French health system was mobilized and medical staff were in need of support during this unprecedented crisis. Bordeaux’s medical students naturally rallied together to support the professionals, thus forming a highly effective solidarity chain.

  • 15/06/2020

L'équipe mobile de dépistage #COVIDー19 des étudiants en santé © DR L'équipe mobile de dépistage #COVIDー19 des étudiants en santé © DR

As of the 17th of March, two small rooms on the first floor of Bordeaux University Hospital (CHU) were dedicated to the dozens of medical students lending a hand on a daily basis. Masked and focused on their computer screens, they managed the two platforms set up by the University Hospital group to support and strengthen the healthcare chain.

Hundreds of voluntary students

From the start of the lockdown, several hundreds of students were mobilized via a list pooled between the College of Health Sciences of the University of Bordeaux and the hospital. As Professor Jean Luc Pellegrin, Director of the college, explained: “When the University of Bordeaux closed, the interns working in the laboratories for their research year became available. In addition, the reorganization of the CHU’s departments in order to cope with the COVID-19 emergency, freed up a certain number of interns and externs. This pool of future health professionals, whether students in medicine, pharmacy, dentistry or paramedics, constituted the vital force of this service. It must be remembered, however, that this mobilization was possible only because other interns and externs were pursuing their basic missions in all departments, particularly in the emergency ward, intensive care and dedicated COVID-19+ units.” 

Answering doctors’ queries

As soon as the lockdown was announced, a COVID-19 unit was established under the management of Doctor Mathilde Pugès and around the Ville Hop platform. Medical, pharmacy, dentistry and paramedical interns (nurses, nutritionists, etc.) dealt with queries from private practitioners and various professionals from the region’s medical institutions.

“The interns were supervised and coached by two doctors from the CHU. We set up a daily FAQ, via which answers emerged each day, formalized and shared during the daily briefing. The nature of queries evolved with time. Everyone monitored events, stayed up-to-date with information and researched data to provide the best possible advice and guidance to professionals,” explained Dr. Charles Cazanave, expert in infectious diseases at the CHU.

Supporting home care for patients

At the same time, the Rafael platform - COVID-19 unit, led by Dr. Irène Machelart, provided general practitioners and their positive or suspected COVID-19 patients with a digital interface and telephone contact to assist with home care for patients. “The team was composed of some forty externs managed by three senior staff (clinical directors or hospital practitioners), who relayed each other to monitor remote patients registered on the platform by their GP. These students followed the course of patients’ symptoms on a daily basis, via online questionnaires and personalized phone calls.

Also active on the ground

With nursing homes needing physical back-up, Charles Cazenave oversaw “mobile geriatric teams” composed of interns from various fields (including a geriatrics specialist and a hygienist). “The aim of these teams was to provide medical and hygiene support to nursing homes, in addition to testing for residents and staff. Nursing homes contacted us via the platform and we visited them following an assessment of the situation,” Dr. Cazenave explained. Several establishments received a visit on a weekly basis, from Monday through Saturday. “On the same principle, we started to test the most exposed students on campus, at the student health center,” he added.

Also involved were some thirty dental externs, assisted by 16 interns in general medicine, who helped to regulate the ambulance service; 5th year pharmacy students who distributed medication or assisted the CHU pharmacy; volunteers doing the rounds in university residences to deliver food and medication to students in difficulty, or those who collected donations of equipment (gowns and masks, etc.).

The commitment of all these young volunteers is fantastic. 

Professor Jean Luc Pellegrin — Director of the College of Health Sciences

Motivation, emulation, team spirit, solidarity, flexibility, responsiveness, humanity and multi-disciplinarity... “COVID-19 is a pathology which has brought people together like never before,” said Charles Cazanave. “Everyone finds meaning in their action, whatever their field. It also allows us to learn more about ourselves and work together for a common goal: to identify the management of patients.” Professor Pellegrin observes that this situation revealed talents, “in a crisis period, the codes are broken, skill comes to the fore and everyone works together; it’s a new way to approach medical care and deal with a public health issue.”