Russian Medical Students Say Kremlin Forcing Them into Coronavirus Fight

TOPSHOT - Russian President Vladimir Putin wearing protective gear visits a hospital where patients infected with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus are being treated in the settlement of Kommunarka in Moscow on March 24, 2020. (Photo by Alexey DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / AFP) (Photo by ALEXEY DRUZHININ/SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Medical students across Russia are being warned that they will face academic repercussions if they refuse to join the fight against the Chinese coronavirus, the Moscow Times revealed on Thursday.

Up until this week, medical students willing to work in hospitals to support the coronavirus effort did so of their own accord, despite the encouragement of health authorities. Yet as President Vladimir Putin warned this week, the worst is yet to come after the number of cases nationwide topped 100,000. The Kremlin has reportedly deployed a new approach to shore up the growing strain on medical resources.

The situation has been worsened by a string of resignations from nurses and doctors around the country, many of whom have complained about shortages of personal protective equipment and other essential resources.

In a joint order signed on Monday, the country’s health and education ministries reportedly demanded universities send all their third year, higher general practice, pediatrics, preventative medicine, nursing, and dentistry students to local hospitals for “practical training.”

A typical doctor’s training course in Russia lasts seven years, meaning students will be far from fully qualified.

The Times cited students at universities saying that their institutions have chosen to carry out this order with a heavy hand, warning those who refuse to comply they would face academic and disciplinary consequences. For example, First Moscow State Medical University administration reportedly told students that those who do not participate would be judged as having unfulfilled academic requirements, a basis for losing scholarship money.

Posting on the Russian social media network VKontakte, the student trade union committee for North-Western State Medical University in St. Petersburg laid out the reality of the situation.

“You can always refuse to work with [Covid-19 patients], but this automatically equates to refusing to undergo practical training, which carries disciplinary penalties,” the committee’s administrators wrote on the group’s Vkontakte page. “We must obey the orders of the two ministries.”

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, who is also leading Russia’s coronavirus task force, reportedly ordered plans to expand medical operations last week.

“Obviously, we will need additional staff to meet this challenge,” he said in a task force meeting, remarks of which were posted online. “There are no available personnel, and hauling them from one region to another is also pointless.”

He continued.

We now need to get down to business from our conversations. I ask you to prepare an order by Monday from the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education and Science on sending fourth and fifth-year students to hospitals. These are motivated students who already have good enough knowledge, they chose this profession. They will once again learn in practice what real medicine is, gain knowledge, and provide necessary help in this situation.

According to Moscow’s Health Department, student medical workers will be given a choice between working in the “red zone,” where they are directly exposed to patients, or the “green zone,” where they are not. Those working in the red zone will earn over 100,000 rubles ($1,369.46) per month and will be able to choose between a variety of different roles.

After initially resisting the wave of coronavirus cases from neighboring China, Russia is now one of the many countries buckling under the strain of the pandemic. As of Thursday morning, the country had recorded 106,498 cases nationwide and 1,073 fatalities. Close to 12,000 people are said to have already made a full recovery.

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