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The Residents’ Council is a part of the Student Representation of the Faculty of Medicine of Vilnius University. The purpose and main function of the Resident’s Council is to represent the residents of the Faculty of Medicine and their interests at the University and national level. This academic year, Kamile Marcinkevičiūtė, a 3rd-year resident in internal medicine, has been entrusted with the position of chairwoman of the VU SA MF Residents’ Council. Since December 2020, she has been working in the Fourth COVID-19 Unit of VU Hospital Santaros Clinics, and in the time remaining after her duties, she has also worked in the Human Resources Management Department of Santaros Clinics. “In cooperation with residents, residency programme coordinators, and department heads, I coordinate the transfer of residents to specialised COVID-19 units. In this tense and unpredictable period, we have to look for solutions that meet the expectations of both residents and the entire medical community,” the chairwoman of the Residents’ Council said.

Last autumn and this winter many residents began working in the newly opened specialised units for COVID-19 treatment. New teams are often formed using employees from different medical institutions or doctors from different specialisations. Therefore, according to Kamilė, various situations inevitably arise: “It’s one thing when residents have to go to departments that have been running smoothly for many years, but it’s quite another when we are involved in the organisation of the work processes of a newly opened department.” Marcinkevičiūtė claims that every doctor who becomes a new member of the team always brings his/her own understanding of how the work should go. But in the long run, they have to adapt to each other and share knowledge and good practices, and in a few weeks a united and high-quality team is formed. “Naturally, extra stress is added by the constant need to be careful about virus and infection outbreaks among staff”, Marcinkevičiūtė said. “It’s a pity that our encouraging smiles are hidden by the protective equipment that always covers our faces.”

Kamile Marcinkeviciute ReaktoriusKamile Marcinkevičiūtė, 2021.

According to the chairwoman of the Residents’ Council, working in the COVID-19 units is a big challenge for her and other MF residents, and not just in a professional sense. Recently, the organisation of the residency study process has also changed: “I had to review the residency programme plans and work schedules. The personal plans of each resident are also constantly adjusted. Due to the specific nature of the work in the COVID-19 units, they need more staff than usual, so everyone, without exception, has to work intensively on holidays and weekends, more often on duty at night.” In the second half of December, due to the extremely rapid flow of patients, Kamilė had to make a huge number of calls to residents asking them to start working in COVID units as early as the next morning.

“During this period, we residents have had more responsibilities than ever before. The unpredictability of the disease forces us to make difficult decisions about the treatment of patients very quickly”, the chairwoman of the Residents’ Council said. According to her, a young resident looking after coronavirus patients at night does not always have the opportunity to wait until morning when a more experienced colleague who can give advice arrives at work. “It’s great that together we’re strong. There have always been colleagues, more experienced professionals, who are ready to help or give advice at any time of the day and any day of the week,” Marcinkevičiūtė said. She is convinced that the actual hours spent by the current residents in the COVID-19 units certainly do not fit into any of their work schedules.

Summing up the lessons learned during these trying times, the chairwoman of the Residents’ Council said that she has no doubt that the patients currently fighting the virus need compassion and communication no less than medicine and oxygen. “Yes, so far we can only smile with our eyes, so we’re learning to express our empathy in a different way: through our words and hard work to inspire hope and motivation in patients suffering from illness and isolation. ... It’s hard to say how happy older patients are to be able to communicate with loved ones over the phone for even a few minutes. It’s true that our work can seem thankless, because recovering patients may not even know the doctors or nurses who saved them from the grip of death. However, according to Kamilė, the significant and long-awaited vaccination process has begun with hope: “I believe that we will soon be able to feel safer and visit those we’ve missed so much.”

What would Marcinkevičiūtė, a future internal medicine doctor, like to say to vaccine sceptics and anyone who doubts the importance of vaccination? “I would like to invite them first of all to question their own knowledge,” she replied. She urged those who share unverified or vague news, unscientific knowledge, or information from suspicious sources to feel a basic sense of responsibility, because the price of distortions or lies could be human health and life. “This pandemic teaches us, as residents, special responsibilities and compassion. The situation is also teaching a lesson to society as a whole, and that lesson is where the freedoms and rights of the individual end and where respect and duty to one’s family, the state, and the world begins,” the chairwoman of the Residents’ Council said.

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