About 70 University of Auckland medical students have been recalled from their overseas work placements, due to fears around travel restrictions imposed to battle COVID-19.
The 70 students, who were taking part in a medical elective course which offered students the chance to gain hands-on experience in their field, have been told they have until the end of the week to fly back into New Zealand. As well as the 70 recalled students, 150 other medical students have also been affected. These students, who were due to take up overseas placements later in the year, have had their placements suspended until further notice.
University of Auckland Medical and Health Sciences Dean John Fraser says the decision to recall the students was prompted by uncertainty about international travel. “Our main concern was not so much for their risk of infection, but really our concern about the possibility for rapid change or imposition of travel restrictions which mean the students could be trapped,” he told RNZ. “I suspect that the situation globally is going to move very, very rapidly and we didn’t want to be in a position where we were caught and not being able to get students back.”
Students in both low and high-risk countries have been recalled. The university says the decision to recall all overseas students was made to ensure that students working in high-risk countries weren’t disadvantaged in their academics by the COVID-19. “We wanted to be fair to all students,” Fraser said. “We didn’t want to pull some students back and leave some students to continue their electives.”
Fraser says the university will help affected students find new placements throughout New Zealand. Overseas placements are unlikely to happen for recalled students, due to the time and resources necessary to organise it, but the university will work with local DHBs to ensure opportunities for work experience are still provided.
“Understandably some of [the students] are quite upset,” Fraser said. “We knew that that would be the case. Some of them have planned these for some time.” However, Fraser believes that recalling the students was ultimately the best decision to ensure their safety.
At time of writing, the University of Auckland is the only university to have recalled its medical students. However, the University of Otago has indicated it is considering it – telling Stuff that it was “actively reviewing” whether it was appropriate to allow students to take part in overseas work placements.