• Chunichi Shimbun

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In mid-April, 87 second-year medical students at Fujita Health University in Toyoake, Aichi Prefecture, submitted a petition to the head of the faculty pleading for the university to hold anatomy training classes.

The university shut down back then after the government declared a state of emergency earlier that month. The shutdown of the university led to the cancellation of anatomy classes, which allow students to dissect donated bodies of patients and understand how the human body works.

“We believe the classes are essential for us to become good doctors,” said Hitomi Nakamura, 20, who compiled the petition.

The university, which has been holding online classes as a substitute, decided to respond to the students’ request and held on-site anatomy training classes, although fewer than usual, between late May and early July after the state of emergency was lifted.

As many universities nationwide adopt online classes to prevent the spread of new coronavirus infections, medical departments in universities like Fujita Health University are having difficulty conducting anatomy classes, clinical rotations and other on-site training for students.

Although the government and universities plan to recognize credits of medical students even with shorter on-site training hours, students are worried whether they will be qualified to work as doctors without gaining enough clinical experience.

In order to become a doctor, students need to earn necessary credits during their six years in college and pass the national exam for medical practitioners.

Most of the medical curricula are decided by the education ministry as a nationwide standard, and anatomy classes and direct patient care experience are part of them.

As more emphasis has been put on clinical experience in recent years to generate awareness as future doctors, medical students normally go through 2,000 hours of clinical rotations on average between the latter half of the fourth year and the first half of the sixth year in seven designated departments including internal medicine, surgery, pediatrics, emergency room and obstetrics and gynecology.

But this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities switched out part of their on-site training classes for online simulations and report assignments.

In particular, there is the risk of medical students infected with the virus spreading it among patients during training. Mie University in Tsu, Mie Prefecture, brought all of its physical classes online after a cluster was confirmed in its Faculty of Medicine in August.

But Fujita Health University continued on-site training for medical students, conducting zoning at its hospital so they don’t come into contact with COVID-19 patients and doctors in charge of such patients.

The university also strictly restricts the students from dining out or traveling outside the prefecture.

“Medical students begin to look like doctors after going through a series of clinical training,” said Nakao Iwata, 58, head of the university’s faculty of medicine, stressing the significance of on-site training. “They can learn a lot from today’s medical front tackling the infectious disease with all of their might.”

Meanwhile, Nagoya University stopped clinical training involving direct contact with patients for more than three months since March after carefully considering the risks of infection spreading at its hospital.

Medical students instead held discussions with teachers using Zoom and submitted reports.

During the period, teachers held meetings almost every day with student representatives of each class to discuss infection prevention measures in an effort to ease their concerns. The university gradually resumed clinical training since mid-June when the first wave of infections settled down.

Takahiro Ichino, 24, a fifth-year student who attended the meetings, said, “We appreciate the fact that the university set up opportunities to listen to us.”

On the other hand, he said he is concerned that there are several departments in which he didn’t have the chance to receive training.

“I’m sure there are students who were thinking about choosing a field to specialize in after getting training at all the departments,” Ichino said. “I hope the university will take follow-up measures so that people won’t say doctors of the ‘COVID-19 generation’ are useless.”

The government instructed universities to hold remote lectures if it is difficult for them to hold on-site clinical training amid the pandemic. Students who obtained the credits required by universities are allowed to take the national exam for medical practitioners.

But there remains the issue of how to make up for the lost opportunities for clinical training during college.

“We could cover various things online, but there are things that can be learned only through on-site training,” says Hiroshi Nishigori, 48, a professor at Nagoya University’s Center for Medical Education. “We may have to think of ways to make up for that during the time after they pass the national exam and work as medical interns for two years.”

This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Sept. 8.

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