The coronavirus pandemic is putting hospitals and nursing homes around the world in an exceptional emergency situation. Switzerland is no exception: an emergency looms, especially in intensive care. Experts predict that the situation in the country is about to drastically worsen in the coming days. Hospitals are preparing for an onslaught of COVID-19 patients. In this tense situation, every helper is needed.
To support the healthcare system, ETH students have launched a nationwide initiative called “Students4Hospitals”, which is a web platform that quickly and easily places volunteer students in healthcare institutions. Students have the opportunity to volunteer in administration, looking after the children of hospital staff, simple laboratory work and help with care work.
Lighting a spark
One of the initiators is Rahel Schmidt, a student on the Bachelor of Medicine programme at ETH Zurich. “I spotted the problem during my shift as an entry inspector at the Kantonsspital Baden,” she says. “I suddenly realised that in the current situation, helping hands are needed at every turn.” This prompted her to call ETH Professor Jörg Goldhahn, who is project manager of the Bachelor of Medicine programme. They discussed the situation and he felt that something ought to come from the student side.
Immediately after this telephone call, Schmidt launched the initiative together with her friend Luca Schaufelberger, who studies interdisciplinary sciences. They quickly developed the idea further and decided to launch an online platform where students can register and healthcare institutions can search for suitable helpers. That was on Sunday 15 March.
High degree of voluntary commitment
It took less than a week to turn the idea into a reality. More and more ETH students from a wide range of disciplines joined the duo, who also immediately networked with other organisations and individuals such as ETH Rector Sarah Springman. As things developed from there, they also had some lucky breaks, Schmidt says.
For example, Medison.ch, a start-up founded by computer science students, and other IT students offered to help develop and implement the website, students4hospitals.ch. And the law firm Lenz&Staehelin also supported Schmidt and Schaufelberger by legally reviewing the platform’s general terms and conditions. “In the end, three dozen people who share our vision all had input into the platform,” Schaufelberger says.
Placements possible immediately
Starting right now, students from all over Switzerland and across all disciplines can register on the platform to be placed on a relief mission in the healthcare sector. These missions are undertaken on a voluntary basis or – if an institution has the necessary finances – paid on an hourly basis.
Each mission will last several weeks and the workload must not exceed 50 percent of a full-time post. “The participating students must confirm that they’re continuing their studies,” Schmidt says. “They mustn’t neglect them under any circumstances – and the institutions that employ the helpers must also know this.”
When registering, interested parties must indicate the skills and capacity they offer. “It also helps if, for example, someone has a car so they can take on transportation jobs. We want to help hospitals as much as possible,” Schmidt explains.
A dozen placements so far
Even before the platform’s official launch, 1,000 students had already registered as helpers thanks to people spreading the word on the Instagram social media channel. Their details are now being transferred to the new platform so interested hospitals can view them. Since 25 March, people have been able to register directly on the platform.
Just how much demand there is from hospitals and clinics is currently still uncertain. “We need to make sure they find out about the platform and what it offers them,” Schmidt says. “But I’m convinced that word will spread very quickly.” She has already scored her first success: “We’ve placed over a dozen students with a hospital in the canton of Zurich via our platform,” she explains. The students are prepared for every eventuality. “If we end up not placing many students at all, that’s a good thing – it means the hospitals are coping,” Schaufelberger says.
In order to keep up with the dynamics of the situation as it develops, the initiator duo and their comrades-in-arms will soon found an association, not least to provide better legal protection. Like all other aspects of this undertaking, the process will be entirely virtual. “When the pandemic is over in the medium term, we look forward to meeting each other for the first time in real life,” Schmidt says.