Students studying Medicine, Nursing and Medical Imaging at the University of Exeter have supported the NHS in a wide range of roles throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Exeter and Truro, many Medical Students volunteered to help run the Novavax vaccine trial at the Royal Cornwall Hospital and Royal Devon & Exeter sites. The vaccine is now pending UK approval after showing 89 per cent efficacy in the UK-wide trial.
Exeter’s Medicine, Nursing and Medical Imaging students routinely support NHS teams while on placement across the region as part of their studies. Now, many Nursing and Medicine students are also involved in delivering vaccines to the most vulnerable.
The volunteering efforts follow many Medical and Medical Imaging students graduating early last year, to support the NHS through a critical point in the pandemic.
Dr Duncan Browne, Principle Investigator for the Novavax trial at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust, said the Exeter students were essential to the trial going ahead in Cornwall. He said “Without the University of Exeter Medical School students, we wouldn’t have been able to take part in the Novavax vaccine study, which has brought another successful COVID-19 vaccine to the world market. Whilst helping with patient care and the advancement of science, the students also got to experience first-hand the complexities of medical research but also being part of a scientific breakthrough.”
Joseph Lewis, four year Medical Student based in Truro, said “I was honoured to be involved in the development of a further successful COVID-19 vaccine. As medical students, we were involved in monitoring patients, taking blood and swabs and enabling the trial to run smoothly. The impacts of this work are likely to improve many lives across the globe, and I’m extremely proud I could make my own very small contribution. I am now looking forward to being involved in the administration of vaccines at the mass vaccination centre in Cornwall alongside my continuing studies and placements. This is a great opportunity to help local people and bring some normality back to life in the UK.”
Final year Medical Students in Truro were also recently offered employment by the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust to work weekend shifts aiding and supporting the Junior Doctors alongside their weekly placements. Rachel Fox is one of many who took up this role. Her duties have included supporting the team caring for Covid positive patients: reviewing patients, taking bloods, putting in cannulas, taking ECGs, and keeping very sick patients company. She said, “It’s an incredibly strange time, and that is an understatement, but being able to help in a small way is an invaluable experience and such a privileged position to be in.”
Medical Student Charlie Emsden, who is currently studying for a Masters in Public Health in Exeter, has also been volunteering to help cover shifts for hospital staff who are shielding. She said: “While the shifts have been hard work, it has given me hands-on experience of operating on patients, including suturing and wound care. Spending so much time in an operating theatre and being part of a surgical team has inspired me to go into a career in surgery.”
Dr Ray Sherdian, Novavax Principal Investigator at the RD&E, said: “Students from the University of Exeter played a vital role in supporting the Novavax trial in Exeter as part of the regional response to the COVID pandemic. They helped us identify and communicate with suitable patients through evening & weekend work on top of continuing their studies. Through communication with patients they made the study run more efficiently and allowed us to recruit over our initial target and ahead of schedule and so allowed us to know sooner that the vaccine works extremely efficiently. This has given them early exposure to research for patients benefit and from this group of hard working and well informed students will emerge the next generation of researchers.
“It’s great to know they played their part in the wider response to the COVID pandemic and did so in a really positive constructive manner."
Helen Quinn, Director of the Joint Research Office at the University of Exeter and the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust, said: “It was a pleasure to work with the University of Exeter Medical students on the Novavax study, delivering research at this volume and pace is only possible when many people from different professions come together to work as a team, over 100 at the Exeter site, the students exemplified the power of multidisciplinary team working and organisations collaborating to provide opportunities to our population to benefit from research”
Dr Pauline McGlone, Chief Operating Officer, Clinical Research Network South West Peninsula, said: “It’s fantastic that the medical students have supported the vaccine trials across the region. The work that they have done has provided the teams within the organisations with vital support and they have been key to the success of the trials. We hope that this experience has given the medical students the opportunity to see how research works and inspired them to be involved in the future. To see the outcome of the trial so quickly after being involved shows the impact of that involvement. We want to say a huge thank you to them all.”
Professor Ian Fussell, Associate Dean of Education at the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “We are incredibly proud of the contribution our students have made throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve supported the NHS in a wide range of ways during a crucial time, and in doing so, have learned so much. Never before has the contribution of both healthcare and research been so important, and when I look at our students, I feel confident that the future’s in safe hands.”