Meet the medical students on the front lines of UAE's Covid-19 battle

Medics from Gulf Medical University stepped up to change bed sheets, give injections and process virus tests when the call to volunteer came

AJMAN, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , June 17  – 2020 :- Left to Right -  Priya Rani, Krishnaveni and Salwa Ali Ghanem , students of Gulf Medical University Ajman outside the Thumbay hospital in Ajman. These medical students volunteered at local hospitals when Covid hit in the UAE.  (Pawan Singh / The National) For News. Story by Anna
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Dozens of medical students have stepped up to help in the UAE's fight against Covid-19.

While most were eager to put their years of study to good use, concerns about potentially contracting the virus made some of their families nervous.

Priya Rani’s mother did not want her to volunteer.

When the Covid-19 pandemic struck, medical students were called to help at local hospitals.

Ms Rani was one. The medical student at Gulf Medical University had been restless at home after her studies were suspended.

The university arranged 25 volunteering placements with private and government hospitals in Ajman and Umm Al Quwain after the UAE government called on those with a background in healthcare to help.

This is the time we need to work. This is the time we need to fight Covid-19 to protect our patients

Ms Rani leapt at the possibility but it took days to convinced her mother.

“We literally had to beg our parents to do it,” said Ms Rani, who volunteered at Thumbay Hospital for six weeks prior to her final exams. “My mum stopped talking to me because she did not want me to go out, but I felt like it was something I really wanted to do.”

As a fourth year student, Ms Rani had spent months shadowing doctors but it was the first time she really grasped the role of all hospital staff.

She worked 12 hour shifts assisting nursing staff, who were under pressure serving Covid-19 patients.

“Being in their lives for just two months, I learnt to respect them so much,” said Ms Rani, who is from Bangladesh but grew up in the UAE.

“The doctors come and they diagnose you with your disease but it’s the nurses who are in the background doing all the work, it’s the nurses who are keeping watch on patients for 24 hours a day.”

AJMAN, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , June 17  – 2020 :- Priya Rani, Student of Gulf Medical University Ajman with her mother Ranjita Rani outside the Thumbay hospital in Ajman. These medical students volunteered at local hospitals when Covid hit in the UAE.  (Pawan Singh / The National) For News. Story by Anna
Priya Rani with her mother, Ranjita Rani, who was initially nervous about her daughter volunteering at a hospital. Pawan Singh / The National

Ms Rani worked in the wards without Covid-19 patients. Her daily tasks included everything from giving vaccinations to changing bedding to helping mothers with nursing.

Nurses guided her each step of the way.

“They taught me everything,” said Ms Rani.

“They literally taught me with their own hands and then they laughed, and they joked, they shared their food and I would never have known these things if I hadn’t volunteered.

“Usually we don’t see nurses in that way. I’ve seen so many patients come and yell at nurses. But they work for 12 hours a day and do an amazing job.”

Salwa Ali, a fourth year biomedicine student, volunteered in a lab at Thumbay Hospital processing Covid-19 tests.

“I was a bit scared going in, I won’t lie to you, but I was happy to be doing this,” said Ms Ali, a 21-year-old Emirati.

“It just made me more committed to my goals.”

Over the course of five weeks, she saw technology improve as researchers around the world rushed to automate test processing - cutting the time it takes to get a result from four hours to 80 minutes.

She expects the pandemic will inspire more young people to pursue careers in healthcare and medical research.

“Research is something very important in the current day,” said Ms Ali. “There are new viruses, we need new treatment, new procedures for everything and it will play such an important role in the community.”

Krishnaveni Selvaraj, 21, has volunteered as a nurse at a government hospital in Umm Al Quwain for the past three months.

She goes three days a week to care for geriatric patients.

Her parents were initially hesitant about her work in a hospital that treats Covid-19 patients but for her, volunteering was a certainty.

“Of course, we are nurses so we should not get nervous. If we get down or upset due to the Covid-19 pandemic, who will take of our patients? That’s the main thing.”

“My family were tense, worried. It was in their head that it’s really disturbing situation, they said, ‘how will you volunteer?’

“I said, ‘I’m a nurse, I’m going to graduate’. In nursing, it’s not like if something happens we should step back. Without nurses, nothing can be done. That’s how it is. We should be there for the patients, no matter what the situation is.”

Her interest in science led her to become a nurse, and she has not looked back.

“I need to gain a lot of experience. This is just the beginning.”

“Our world is still suffering with Covid-19 and people need nurses and doctors to be there for the patients. This is the time we need to work. This is the time we need to fight Covid-19 to protect our patients.”