Student medics volunteering as 111 call handlers

student volunteers

Students from BHP founder-member the University of Birmingham are using their skills to support the fight against COVID-19 by volunteering their time to train as NHS 111 call handlers with the West Midlands Ambulance Service (WMAS).

The first and second year students became involved through Birmingham Med Students for Action – a Facebook group set up by fellow students offering opportunities for paid work in a range of healthcare settings including hospitals, GP practices, pharmacies and NHS call centres. Students chosen to work with the ambulance service will undergo an intensive training programme before gaining a licence allowing them to work as a 111 call assessor. These licences can be carried forward giving them the opportunity to continue working in the call centres once the pandemic is over.

The frontline triage role will see students answering calls from the general public where they will assess symptoms, offer health advice and refer patients to out-of-hours GP’s or other relevant treatment centres. Depending on the severity of the call, students will also be able to dispatch emergency ambulance teams if required. After completing a number of weeks as unsupervised call assessors, students may also have the opportunity to extend their training to enable them to handle 999 calls.

Second year pre-clinical medical student, Jack Hannay Manikum, who is about to complete his third week of training, said “As a medical student, I knew that volunteering to help would provide me with an invaluable experience that would, and already has, contributed to my personal development while training to become a doctor. The patient contact I experience is incredible, from triaging patients with minor injuries to suspected cardiac arrests, where I would have to provide emergency life support over the phone to someone who may never have been in that situation before.

Student volunteers
Left to right: Tom Appelboam, Ellie Turnham, Jonny Woods and Jack Hannay Manikum

“I knew the pressure that I would be faced with would be similar to that of a doctor, but it’s a great learning experience. Simply hearing patients thank me after each phone call has been enough to motivate me to continue with this role without question.”

Speaking of how his studies have prepared him for the role, Jack added: “Being able to understand medical terminology, symptoms for specific conditions and the conditions themselves is vital to being successful in the job. I don’t think I would have been able to grasp the concepts as easily if I hadn’t gone through a year at medical school.

“As well as that, I think our clinical placements have allowed us to talk with ease with patients over the phone from the get go. I think without that patient contact, many of us would have started off being a lot more nervous.”

This group of Birmingham students are the latest to help the wider COVID-19 effort. Students have rallied to support the NHS during the pandemic, volunteering in community pharmacies, GP surgeries and supporting frontline key workers in hospitals.