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ARGENTINA | 10-09-2020 08:42

Virus crisis forces distance learning on Argentina's student doctors

Thousands of students from the faculty of medicine at the University of Buenos Aires have been studying virtually since educational institutions were shut down in Argentina in March.

The doctor brings his smartphone closer to the coronavirus patient lying on the hospital bed. On the other end of the video call, medical students pose their questions and make their prognoses from afar – it's as close as they can come during Argentina's lengthy confinement.

Instead of touring the wards with his students at this teaching hospital in Ezeiza, outside Buenos Aires, Professor Mario Grossmann is filming with his phone and talking to his students via WhatsApp.

"I pass them the radiological plates by WhatsApp. I film myself making incisions and I show them how I do a biopsy," he says.

For his fourth and fifth-year medical students, an image on a phone is as close as they can get for now to a real live patient. 

Hands-on training for student doctors has been put on hold as Argentina's lockdown continues, meaning graduations for many will be delayed by at least a year.

"These students have never touched a patient, they have never placed a stethoscope on a lung or a heart. 

"Touching, seeing, smelling is very important on a semiological level," says Grossmann, a specialist in emergency medicine and nephrology at Buenos Aires University (UBA) and head of internal medicine at Inter-American Open University.

"I can send them a video or an audio, but it is not the same thing," said Grossmann.

Distance learning doctors

With more than 10,000 deaths and half-a-million infections, Argentina is one of South America's worst-affected countries by the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of students from the faculty of medicine of the University of Buenos Aires are studying virtually since educational institutions were shut down in Argentina in March.

Grossman trains them from the Interzonal hospital in Ezeiza, on the outskirts of the capital, which has more than 80 percent of the country's coronavirus infections.

Although the distance learning classes are far from ideal, Grossmann considers it imperative to the training of new doctors given the current restrictions.

Taking a toll

The doctor says Argentina's long battle against the country's crippling coronavirus epidemic has taken a toll on health-workers. 

"The doctors, all the health personnel, are tired," said Grossmann, who contracted the coronavirus with severe pneumonia before recovering.

If the government of President Alberto Fernández had not acted so quickly in declaring a lockdown, and if the hospital not been prepared, "when 50 patients suddenly arrived to be intubated, we would have intubated 10 and 40 would have died. It would have been a disaster," he said.

Grossmann, 35, and a doctor for seven years, has gone from one 24-hour shift a week to three since the coronanvirus arrived in Argentina.

Worldwide learning

"Teaching forces you to keep up to date with new diagnoses and treatments, but no-one was prepared for Covid-19. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have done five different types of treatments that were later discarded by the scientific community," he said.

"It was a worldwide learning process. We went from treatment to treatment." 

Grossmann says he misses interacting with his students inside the hospital and walking the halls to assess classes.

"These students are going to be taking care of people tomorrow who, depending on what we do, are going to evolve well or badly.

"We have to give them the knowledge to make sure that the patient does well. This has changed everything, but we have to adapt."

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by Ariel Timy Torres & Sonia Avalos, AFP

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