University-industry partnerships: The silver bullet for helping healthcare workers?

SOURCE: John Moore/Getty Images/AFP
Healthcare workers all around the world are overstretched.

By U2B Staff 

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The COVID-19 pandemic is straining healthcare workers all over the world. 

Hospitals are swamped with patients, and staff have been working round the clock to keep pace. But industry placements could be the silver bullet to ease the burden of healthcare workers. Medical students and professionals in industries with emergency training can offer some relief for medical professionals, thanks to their training.

But for this to materialise, university-industry partnerships have never been more important than it is today.

For instance, quoting AFP, The Local in its report said Swedish cabin crew and hotel staff are being re-trained to help medical professionals in the country. The initiative offers cabin crew – mostly from SAS Scandinavian airlines, which said last month it would place 10,000 crew on furlough due to the drop in demand for flights amid the pandemic – courses to qualify to assist in hospitals and training for hotel workers to work in nursing homes.

The scheme, called the Skill Shift Initiative, was launched by recruitment agency Novare, SAS and the Wallenberg Foundations.


Leena Engblom, a member of SAS’s cabin crew who signed up to train at Sophiahemmet University, a nursing school and also a private hospital, is working as a medical assistant at the redbrick hospital in Stockholm after a three-day crash course in communicable diseases, hygiene and treating patients and one day of practical training.

Other participants have been sent to other hospitals in the Stockholm region, which pay their salaries. The 48-year-old does administrative tasks, helps to clean and welcomes patients.

The training started at Sophiahemmet University, but went online after Sweden decided to close higher education establishments. The assistants’ work allows other staff to focus on the rising number of COVID-19 patients.

Sophiahemmet University president Johanna Adami told AFP that the crews’ work experience meant that they already had many of the necessary skills, including in first aid, the most common diseases, in addition to safety and how to care for people.

In a separate report, Adami said the university has been contacted by a number of companies that are also interested in the training, adding that she is happy to expand it thanks to the funding they’ve received from the Marianne and Marcus Wallenberg Foundation.

Medical students to the fore

healthcare workers
Final-year medical students can offer some respite for medical professionals, thanks to their training. Source: PAU BARRENA / AFP

Professionals aside, final year medical students, including those in the UK and Australia, are also helping healthcare professionals.

The Guardian reported that final-year medical students across the UK are joining the frontline of the fight against the pandemic after being graduated early by their universities. COVID-19 has overstretched the NHS, prompting many medical schools to expedite graduation, and in some cases cancelling exams, it said.

New graduates will not be able to perform the clinical duties of a doctor, but they will be able to help in hospitals treating coronavirus patients.


The report adds that among medical schools whose students have graduated early are Lancaster, Newcastle and University of East Anglia (UEA), while Oxford and Cambridge also have plans to do so.

Over in Australia, hundreds of final-year medical students – many of them international students – are also stepping up to help fight COVID-19. According to SBS News, students at some universities are being fast-tracked into early service as clinical assistants in a bid to bolster health systems, allowing hospital staff to focus on any new cases.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Department of Health told SBS News that medical students will be “an important part of the health workforce response to COVID-19” and each local health service would approach the matter depending on their needs. 

“Each health service will determine the number of positions. Students will then be offered paid employment contracts which allow them to be supervised in roles that are suitable for their skills and level of experience,” the spokesperson was quoted saying.