“I signed a non-disclosure agreement, so I have to be careful that what I say is not sensitive information,” Machteld warns a number of times before she starts talking about her residency. For three weeks, she spent time with, among others, Ernst Kuipers, the chair of the Executive Board of the largest hospital in the Netherlands and chair of the Landelijk Netwerk Acute Zorg (National Network Acute Care), to name but a few of his many tasks. “He does make time to answer your questions, but because he has such a busy schedule, you sometimes have to settle for a somewhat more concise answer before his personal secretary calls him to his next appointment.”

No such thing as a standard day

“I heard via via from someone that a residency was opening up at the Erasmus MC Executive Board, which was for the social medicine study block. That sounded really interesting to me, so I took the plunge and just went and approached the Executive Board and asked them if there was any room for me to do a residency with them.”

And that was allowed: From October 5 to 22, Machteld followed around one of the Dutch cabinet’s most important partners in the fight against corona. “It would be difficult for me to describe a standard day; the days are incredibly varied. On Monday and Thursday, Ernst Kuipers does standardly hold those press conferences.”

In addition to Kuipers’ busy schedule, the days themselves were also very long: “His days really are from eight o’clock in the morning until nine o’clock in the evening. I usually didn’t stay that long, so I would go home around six o’clock.”

New insights during board meetings

What else has surprised Machteld? “A hospital is a sort of business; therefore, you have got to think about finances, but also about new construction, you name it. I find it admirable to see how much the Executive Board needs to be aware of everything. In spite of that, they are incredibly well informed about everything. Of course, they are now busy dealing with the corona crisis, but during days like those, you really skip from one thing to the next and you have to be able to switch between topics very quickly.”

Machteld regularly attended Erasmus MC’s board meetings. “Ernst Kuipers is, of course, not on the Executive Board all by himself. It’s made up of a team of four people who all work incredibly hard.”

The meetings were very informative, she says. “You notice that so much is interconnected. The hospital has to work together with so many other organisations. For example, people are sometimes unable to go straight to a nursing home because of a capacity problem or some other reason, which means they have to stay longer in the hospital. That all has to be arranged.”

Unique experiences

During her residency, Machteld went through a lot that other medical students are unlikely to experience any time soon. She even stood on the hospital’s helipad. “That was actually a lot of fun. The NRC newspaper wanted to take some photos for an article. The photographer asked if that was allowed on the helicopter pad. You can also see on the photo that Kuipers is posing behind me. Normally, the helicopter pad is not accessible to students at all.”

A lot is being done at the hospital to make sure that all employees are kept informed about the new measures and developments surrounding Covid-19 within the hospital: “They organise livestreams, which are mainly in-house, where employees can ask questions that are then answered by experts.”

Machteld has not overheard any phone calls to Hugo de Jonge, the deputy prime minister here in the Netherlands. Although she has overheard a few calls to other key figures in the corona crisis. But because of her confidentiality obligations, she is not allowed to say anything about these. She did witness a work visit by the Dutch Green Party politician Jesse Klaver: “He visited the intensive care unit, and then met with the Executive Board, where I also briefly met him.”

Attention from the press is also not a daily occurrence for a medical student. “The press conferences were very impressive. There were a lot of cameras from different news channels, which was very cool to see.”

And all those times that Kuipers sat at Jinek’s table (Eva, Jinek, a current affairs TV personality, ed.), was Machteld there as well? “No, his days were incredibly long and when he went to Jinek in the evenings, I watched him on TV at home later that night.”