During previous waves of corona, staff from other departments were often brought in to the intensive care unit to help out, says Merve Rousian, a medical student herself and one of the people responsible for the recruitment of the students. As it stands now, it is not (yet) necessary, thanks to the deployment of students. Also, there is a 10 percent sick leave among medical staff at the ICU which the students help compensate.

Washing and turning

Students have always helped out in the department, but their task was mainly to ‘stack shelves’: keeping the shelves in the department stocked up with medicines and materials. Treating patients was not part of their remit. That’s changed completely. Among other things, they’ll be washing patients, turning them and taking blood.

Before the students are allowed to enter the ICU, they have to undergo a three-day boot camp, during which they are given a day and a half of training with a dummy. After that, a nurse takes them by the hand for a day and shows them the ropes on the ward. Then while they may know what they have to do, they don’t have the same training as a real ICU nurse. But this doesn’t lead to unsafe situations, Rousian assures us. “The students are never ultimately responsible for a patient; there is always a nurse present, and all their work is monitored.”

Hard time


Rousian is not mincing her words: students will have a hard time in the ICU. “You become part of a team that you don’t know, and the condition of the patients means you’re confronted with the hard facts.” That is why she selects the students according to their self-reliance, open attitude and flexibility. “You have to have a lot of confidence.”

She does the work herself, too; this weekend she has night shifts again. She knows how unusual it is to work in the ICU. “It’s very strange to be promoted from being a shelf-stacker to the patient’s bedside. It’s very intense. You come across not only corona patients but also people with neurological trauma or complications after surgery. At the same time, it is a great opportunity that you can do this kind of work as a student. In normal times it would never be how things work in practice.”


For Rousian, the new influx of students has even more advantages: it is good for the atmosphere. “The atmosphere in the ICU has its ups and downs. You never know what the future may bring: are we headed for Code Black? That can make things very tense. The new students, on the other hand, are very enthusiastic and are keen to do their bit.”

Erasmus MC has taken on around one hundred new students as healthcare support staff in the ICU, in addition to the fifty who were already working there. Twelve students per shift are working in the Rotterdam intensive care unit.