Rising to the challenge: medical students as Doctors' Assistants; an evaluation of a new clinical role

J Adv Med Educ Prof. 2021 Jan;9(1):26-33. doi: 10.30476/jamp.2020.87764.1320.


Introduction: The COVID-19 Pandemic brought clinical placements to a halt for many UK medical students. A University Hospitals Trust offered clinical phase students the opportunity to support the National Health Service (NHS) in newly defined roles as Doctors' Assistants (DAs). This study evaluates the experience of students working in a single NHS Trust. To our knowledge, this is the first report of medical students' perspectives on taking up a novel clinical role in the UK.

Methods: An anonymised novel electronic survey was sent to all 40 DAs across a single University Hospitals Trust via email to determine student perceptions of several aspects of the role, including its value to learning and development, impact on well-being, and benefit to the clinical environment. A formal statistical analysis was not required.

Results: Of the total cohort participating in the programme, 32 DAs responded (80% response rate). The experience was considered valuable to multiple aspects of learning and development, particularly familiarisation with the role of a Foundation doctor. Levels of confidence in training and support were high, and most DAs felt valued as part of the clinical team, and experienced no mental health issues resulting from their role. 53% of the participants felt their work was necessary or valuable to the team, and all reported a positive experience overall.

Conclusion: A new role allowed medical students to effectively provide clinical assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. This provided immediate support to clinical teams as well as learning opportunities for the participants without detriment to their mental well-being, and could be a model for effective retention of medical students in clinical environments in the face of resurgence of COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; Doctors' assistants; Medical education; Medical students; Pandemic.