Students in Rotterdam’s medical master programmes are worried. “In early April, they told us that internships would be suspended until the end of May, and that we wouldn’t be receiving any remote instruction either,” says one student.

They understand that during the present coronavirus crisis, physicians have other priorities than teaching students and supervising student doctors on rotation. “But some of our lecturers don’t even work in clinical practice. If they did their best to offer as much of the curriculum as possible online, this would limit the delays. And particularly during a pandemic, this would also be in the public interest.”

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The Erasmus MC confirms that a ‘substantial majority’ of the students will be running into a ten-week delay as a result of the overburdened healthcare system. And this could easily run up even further, according to an EMC spokesperson. This problem is also reported by other university medical centres.

A significant part of the curriculum for medical master students is geared towards the development of clinical skills: activities you need to be able to execute as a qualified physician. “As a consequence, there aren’t many programme elements that lend themselves to digital instruction. In addition, the students will still be required to work on clinical rotation for 10 weeks – meaning that offering part of the curriculum online wouldn’t actually lead to any concrete time savings.”

But according to the Rotterdam master students, at most a quarter of their curriculum is actually centred on the acquisition of practical skills. “While it’s true these lessons can’t be offered online, the other elements can. That would significantly reduce delays in our studies.”

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Student debt

Amir Abdelmoumen, President of the national interest group De Geneeskundestudent, is all too familiar with the problems. He is in the fifth year of his programme in Rotterdam: “As it stands, we have already been held up in our studies for several weeks. And I also wonder why so little is being organised online.”

While Abdelmoumen doesn’t know exactly how the other master programmes are faring, he estimates that the delays for students will run up to at least three months. “A growing number of students are seriously concerned about their mounting student debt. This is higher than average as it is, since Medicine studies last six years and students are often unable to work part-time next to their internships.” He believes medical students should be financially compensated.

Shorter internships

He says the universities have plans to cut back the students’ delays by shortening the period that they are required to work on rotation. Abdelmoumen: “Some students think it’s a good idea, while others are worried that it will affect the quality of their programme. We’ll be consulting our members and subsequently discussing the plans with the universities.”

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