When the Alliance of Philippine Medical Colleges (APMC) ordered the pull-out of 350 medical students from the University of the Philippines Manila Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) mid-March, interns Nick Tan, Ino Villlacastin, PA Pangan and Michelle Eala couldn’t help but feel anxious.
While their group appreciated APMC’s concern about their safety, they felt it was their duty as doctors in training to help fight the war against the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19). “Imagine subtracting 350 people from an already understaffed hospital as more and more patients came in,” Tan recalled. “We couldn’t bear to just leave our residents, fellows, consultants, nurses and patients at the height of it all.”
Tan was so burdened and asked the advice of his mentors, who told him to look for like-minded individuals who are fully aware of the risks involved but would be willing to return to the Department of Health (DOH)-designated COVID-19 referral hospital.
“I sent out a call for volunteers via Telegram—and the response that grew hour after hour was overwhelming,” he recalled. Upon the documented approval of hospital administration and the interns’ parents, over 200 medical students have returned to help PGH front-liners in the battle versus coronavirus.
“Since the first year of med school, the UP College of Medicine has always taught us to serve the underserved,” said Villacastin. “This is why we knew staying was the right thing to do.”
The group describes how medical interns perform tasks that, though limited, are able to free up residents who are on the very front-line of the pandemic. “We’re able to fill in gaps by augmenting manpower so that our front-lining heroes would be less stressed and healthier, instead of doing all the work themselves,” Eala explained.
“They’re the real heroes,” Villacastin added about PGH residents. “We’re here to help in any way we can to lessen the burden they’re carrying.”
Just recently, the interns were assigned to a different “front line”—the newly launched COVID-19 Bayanihan Operations Center. Through a dedicated 24/7 hotline number, 155200, UP-PGH aims to provide assistance to the public and manage the influx of patients to its COVID-19 health-care center.
“We do over-the-phone COVID-19-related consultations so that people don’t have to risk coming to the hospital, especially if their symptoms are mild or nonspecific,” Tan said.
The hotline service is a joint effort of the in-house IT team of UP-PGH and the Enterprise Business Group of digital services provider PLDT Inc. The latter provided a dedicated hotline number, connectivity and the call center IT platform, while UP-PGH converted its Nurses’ Home into the COVID Bayanihan Operations Center.
The medical students admitted that being trained to do call center work and navigating the new terrain for a 24/7 helpline in a little over a week have been tiring. Still, they’re grateful for the chance to help people while they are safe at home and to alleviate the work of health front-liners.
“We’re happy to learn a new skill and are thankful to PLDT for providing us with the technology and hardware to address people’s health concerns,” Tan said.
The group of Tan, Villacastin, Pangan and Eala was also quick to point out how even interns who were unable to physically return to PGH have been mounting help for front-liners. Several organizations have rolled out work-from-home volunteer opportunities, with many dependent solely on social media to call for donations of different kinds.
“We all share a spirit of service, knowing we are all needed during this difficult time and are willing to extend help in any way possible,” said Villacastin.
Pangan admitted that his parents were initially reluctant to let him report to PGH again, and would still worry due to the rising number of COVID-19 patients. He reminded them, “Kung hindi kami tutulong, sino pa?”His folks eventually understood. “This is the spirit of being a doctor, and they’re proud of the doctor I am becoming,” Pangan said. —CONTRIBUTED INQ