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In the past 10 years, the world has experienced wave after wave of serious infectious disease outbreaks, including Ebola, influenza, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and most recently Zika.1 These infections cause considerable morbidity and mortality, and it is just a matter of time before there is another outbreak. The population affected by these pandemics is not only the general public but also healthcare professionals, including doctors. At best, there might be temporary incapacity to work among healthcare professionals and, at worst, considerable numbers of professionals can die, such as during the recent Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone.2 The country’s clinical and public health workforce is still recovering from this shock.
There is a major impact across the continuum of health professional education during any pandemic—from training students to providing continuing education for the overstretched and reduced healthcare workforce. The consequence is that clinical care is compromised not only during the pandemic but also in the recovery phase.
The education of medical students can be seriously hampered, with reduced opportunities for clinical teaching. Healthcare is best learnt at the bedside, but this may be impossible during a pandemic. How do we help students and doctors to learn about these infections in the midst of a pandemic? How do we keep them safe from infection and prevent them from further spreading the disease?
During past influenza pandemics, young people have been disproportionately affected—probably because they had no exposure to and so no immunity from previous similar pandemics. Yet, these same young people make up most of our undergraduate and postgraduate learners in healthcare. So what should we do?
Some have suggested that medical schools should be closed or that students should be prohibited from being in contact with patients during a pandemic.3 An argument for this approach is …
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