Letters to the editor
2020;20(6):e7968 doi: 10.5867/medwave.2020.06.7968

Letter to the editor - Participation of medical students from Latin America in the COVID-19 pandemic

Christian Ponce-Torres

Dear editor,

The World Health Organization decreed on March 11, 2020, the new coronavirus 2019 as a pandemic, urging countries to take preventive measures such as compulsory social isolation, and increase the capacity of their resources in the services of health[1]. In this context, medical schools have suspended their academic activities and clinical rotations in hospitals, to protect students from contagion and to favor the availability of biosafety equipment to health personnel. However, medical students, especially in Latin America, are exposed in different ways to the new coronavirus. Nonetheless, they have been participating in activities in the hospital, the community, and remotely[2].

In Chile, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, most medical schools have not suspended the medical internship program in which medical students of the last year continue to carry out their pre-professional practices in hospitals[3]. This could be due to the increasing demand for care and the shortage of health professionals to cover the needs of healthcare services in the last two months.

Also, in Cuba, the Ministry of Public Health has arranged the participation of medical students of the last three years as tracers to identify people with suspicious symptoms of the new coronavirus in the community (without entering the homes or examining), and then to notify their authorities[4]. In Puerto Rico, fourth-year medical students participate voluntarily in triage areas installed by the National Guard at airport terminals to evaluate passengers suspected of harboring SARS-CoV-2[5].

In contrast, the measures ordered in Peru, Argentina and Colombia have temporarily withdrawn all medical students from hospitals and are isolated in their homes. Some medical schools in these countries are promoting the use of telemedicine in students as an alternative external remote consultation. The Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos in Peru has designed a voluntary Tele-triage program so that medical interns can virtually monitor (calls, messages, and emails) symptomatic patients with the new coronavirus in home isolation[6]. In the Universities of Cuyo and La Plata in Argentina and Católica de Manizales in Colombia, students of the last years participate in the voluntary teleconsultation service in call centers, attend consultations, report suspicious cases and provide information to the population[7].

Even while the direct participation of medical students to support health personnel during the new coronavirus pandemic is still controversial, health and university authorities should ensure their integrity and implement specific job safeguards, especially in the medical internship. Such safeguards include life insurance, remuneration, biosafety equipment, periodic screenings, psychological support, and timely isolation. Students should preferably be excluded from areas with patients diagnosed with COVID-19. Also, the use of telemedicine in students as a resource to contribute to medical care and reduce their exposure to the pandemic should also be considered.


Conflict of interest statement
The author has completed the ICMJE declaration of conflicts of interest and declares that he has no conflicts of interest related to this letter.

The author states that there were no external sources of financing.

  1. Rodriguez-Morales AJ, Sánchez-Duque JA, Hernández Botero S, Pérez-Díaz CE, Villamil-Gómez WE, Méndez CA, et al. Preparación y control de la enfermedad por coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) en América Latina. Acta Med Peru. 2020;37(1):3-7. | CrossRef |
  2. Asociación Peruana de Facultades de Medicina. 3 de abril, 2020. Videoconferencia Foro Internacional de Estudiantes de Medicina “Participación de los estudiantes de medicina en los escenarios de crisis por la Pandemia por Coronavirus COVID-19ʺ. Lima, Perú: ASPEFAM. [online]. | Link |
  3. Asociación de Facultades de Medicina de Chile. Chile: ASOFAMECH; 2020. [online]. | Link |
  4. Pentón MJ. Cuba pone a estudiantes de medicina a hacer pesquisas en hogares por el coronavirus. Diario El Nuevo Herald, 20 de Marzo, 2020. [online]. | Link |
  5. Estudiantes de medicina se unen a la GNPR contra el Covid-19. Diario El Vocero de Puerto Rico, 21 de Marzo, 2020. [online]. | Link |
  6. Facultad de Medicina Humana San Fernando, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos. Proyecto Tele-Triage. Peru: UNMSM; 2020. [online]. | Link |
  7. Universidad Nacional de Cuyo. COVID 19: Futuros médicos de la UNCUYO atenderán el Call Center de la Provincia. Argentina: UNCUYO; 2020. [online]. | Link |


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