Research Note – A letter to the Editor: “Medical student volunteering during COVID-19: lessons for future interprofessional practice”

By | 12th April 2021

Letter to the editor in response to the article: “Medical student volunteering during COVID-19: lessons for future interprofessional practice” (Rosalyn Buckland)

Elena Whiteman, Sallu Dawo

Medical School, University of Warwick, Coventry, United Kingdom

Correspondence to

Dear Editor,

We read with great interest the recent thought-provoking article by Buckland (2020) in The Journal of Interprofessional Care. We believe this is an important read for medical school and hospital administrators looking to develop medical students into a dynamic workforce with a novel set of skills and experience prior to qualification as foundation doctors. The COVID-19 pandemic response has showed the eagerness of medical students to support patient care and highlighted the ability of hospitals to successfully integrate medical students into established clinical teams. The potential for using this collaborative model for long-term benefit is of great significance.

As medical students in their penultimate year at Warwick Medical School who volunteered in April 2020 to join the NHS workforce in Healthcare Assistant (HCA) roles and support the COVID-19 response, the views shared by the author particularly resonate with us. Totaling nearly a year of experience working in intensive care units,  we have gained insight into patient care not provided by the standard medical school curriculum, in which we are usually observers on clinical placements. Importantly, the role has allowed us to experience intensive care from a nursing point of view, building strong interprofessional relationships with the nursing staff and other members of the multidisciplinary team in the process.

Our new-found experience of actively taking part in patient care through clinical observations, daily routine personal care, feeding and drinking, has broadened our experience of patient care with a full appreciation of the roles of the incredible nursing and allied health professionals. This strengthening and appreciation of strong interprofessional relationships is important in facilitating optimal patient care. Indeed, previous research demonstrates that improved relationships in healthcare workers results in improved patient care (Morley & Cashell, 2017).

Previous findings have demonstrated the poor quality of interaction between nursing staff and medical students (Nadolski et al., 2006). While this may have traditionally been the case, our experience has suggested otherwise. As previously reported, nearly half of all full-time students work part-time to support their living during studies (Rosegil, 2014), and the mass volunteering of medical students across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic highlights the willingness of medical students to contribute towards the national health service (UCL 2021; UHCW, 2020). This desire and willingness to contribute to our national health service should be acknowledged and encouraged. Not only will it improve inter-professional relationships and patient care, it also allows medical students to reinforce solidarity within the profession and may encourage a greater sense of responsibility as clinicians in training.

We understand that the scope of the medical course already contains large amounts of content, and that the suggestion of increasing the workload in an already intense course may be met with some hesitation. However, we advocate that the option to work in a clinical environment as HCAs, as we have done, should be available to all future medical students. The extra clinical experience gained outside of the medical school curriculum during the response to this pandemic will be invaluable to the future medical workforce. We agree with Rosalyn Buckland that HCA placements for medical students should be continued in future practice and add the likely positive impact improved relationships will have on patient care.


Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.



  1. Buckland R. (2020). Medical student volunteering during COVID-19: lessons for future interprofessional practice. Journal of interprofessional care, 34(5), 679–681.
  2. Morley, L., & Cashell, A. (2017). Collaboration in Health Care. Journal of medical imaging and radiation sciences, 48(2), 207–216.
  3. Nadolski, G. J., Bell, M. A., Brewer, B. B., Frankel, R. M., Cushing, H. E., & Brokaw, J. J. (2006). Evaluating the quality of interaction between medical students and nurses in a large teaching hospital. BMC medical education, 6, 23.
  4. Rosegil N (2014), “One in seven students work full-time while they study”, [Accessed 20th February 2020]
  5. UCL (2021) “UCL medical students playing ‘invaluable’ role on the NHS frontline”, [Accessed 20th February 2020]
  6. UHCW (2020) “Medical students volunteer to join the NHS fight against COVID-19 across Coventry and Warwickshire”, [Accessed 20th February 2020]