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Medical students lend a hand in earthquake aftermath


Monday 21 March 2011 10:23am

A month after the February 22 quake, Christchurch Hospital staff have taken time to praise medical students from the University of Otago, Christchurch, for their contribution to emergency healthcare.

Emergency specialist Dr Mike Ardagh says many 6th-year medical students, called trainee interns (TI’s), provided ‘fantastic assistance’ to emergency department (ED) nurses and doctors, particularly in the 48 hours after the quake.

“Things were pretty hectic. We were losing power, didn’t have working computers or access to laboratory results or x-rays. The students became essentially runners who collected x-rays from Christchurch Women’s and did things such as check whether staff members needed accommodation, food and confirmed rosters. They allowed the doctors and nurses to get on with treating patients.’’

A key job for TI’s and some 4th and 5th-year medical students was making up packs of medication for the many patients coming to ED with ‘crush syndrome’.

Ardagh says crushed muscles release chemicals such as potassium into the blood, which can be dangerous for the heart. A combination of drugs, which the students assembled into packs, help treat this.

Some of these packs were taken out to ‘scenes’ for doctors to administer as soon as people were rescued from rubble, Ardagh says.

He says in the first few hours after the quake there was a ‘massive wave’ of patients. Then during the evening people started coming into ED who had been rescued from buildings.

One of the 6th-year students who worked in ED after the earthquake was Felicity Williamson.

She was studying in the University of Otago, Christchurch, building which is attached to Christchurch Hospital, when the quake struck.

She had done work experience in the ED and went there to help.

“I thought, ‘I can either go home and sit around doing nothing or I can see how I can help’.’’

She says working – and watching trained doctors – in an emergency situation was a ‘once in a lifetime experience’.

“It was great to be part of it and be able to help. Everyone was rolling up their sleeves and pitching in,’’ she says.

Williamson says she felt privileged to watch senior doctors, or consultants, from a variety of specialties treat patients under trying conditions in the ED.

Christchurch Hospital clinical director of general medicine, Dr David Jardine, also complimented students on their professionalism in the crisis.

“The TI’s were fantastic here during the quake. They were here entirely of their own accord and acted with due responsibility.’’

University of Otago, Christchurch, Associate Dean (Medical Education), Professor Tim Wilkinson says “we want our future doctors to be flexible and to be able to step up where needed so it was great our medical students did so well. As well as our 6th year students, The University of Otago, Christchurch, had many 4th and 5th year students who went beyond the call of duty’’.

Further information

To arrange an interview or for more information, contact;

Dr Mike Ardagh
Tel 64 3 364 0278

Felicity Williamson

Tim Wilkinson
Cell 027 201 3131 (Tim is in Australia so only available for interview by phone)

Kim Thomas,
Senior Communications Advisor, University of Otago, Christchurch.
Cell 027 222 6016

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