CHAMPIGNY-SUR-MARNE, France – Medical student Elodie Vieira uses her stethoscope to check the breathing of a patient, who coughs strongly as she gets closer.
“Very sorry,” says the patient at a coronavirus testing facility near Paris.
“Not to worry. No harm done,” responds the trainee doctor.
Rather than finishing off her nine years of study, Vieira, 27, who lives at home with her parents and sister, is now on the front line in France’s war against coronavirus as she assesses whether people need to be referred to hospital or sent home.
She is one of dozens of medical students who have been drafted in the Paris region as the capital struggles to cope with a rising number of COVID-19 cases.
It now has about 2,700 people on life-support alone, about half the total number of those critically ill from the virus in the country. The expectation is that thousands of new cases will emerge this week as the capital hits the peak of the virus.
The Paris medical students’ union says that in the capital alone 100 interns are on assignment every day.
“It’s a bit like going into the unknown because it’s not something that happens to us every day,” Vieira told Reuters wearing a mask, goggles and a disposable plastic blouse.
“We get some training and have doctors telling us what to do. We’re not ready for it, but we have no choice. It’s part of the job and we’re here to help.”
In the town of Champigny-Sur-Marne, regional health authorities have taken over the local gymnasium and turned it into what looks a large doctor’s surgery.
Where basketball players once ran, chairs are carefully spaced out to become a waiting room. After examining her patient in the tent that serves as her office, Vieira disinfects everything around her.
She is one of two doctors working a six-hour shift with a short lunch break at the facility. Every 20 minutes there is a new patient.
“I wasn’t against coming,” she said. “I said yes as it enables me to get experience and when you see what’s happening in the hospitals you feel you have to do everything you can to help. I’m not especially worried.”
Each evening she returns home to her family even if the virus has meant she has had to move into the basement to reduce contact with her parents.
“We’re always worried for our near ones given that this illness is unpredictable, so I’d rather take every precaution,” she said.