Sixth form volunteer: ‘Everyone here is helping each other get through’

Sally Jones speaks to independent school pupil Jaya Patel about how volunteering for the NHS gave her ‘fascinating insight’ into the medical profession

Jaya Patel, an upper sixth former at King Edward VI High School for Girls and aspiring medic, made the most of lockdown by volunteering for the NHS at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire (UCHW) as an administrator at the heart of a hugely complex operation.

Her high-pressure job in the recruitment office involved hospital trusts across the West Midlands, and she and her team worked long hours, helping to process 300 medical students and graduates, plus doctors and nurses and many other staff brought in during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One major challenge was recruiting the workforce for the Birmingham Nightingale Field Hospital and Covid testing sites to get these staffed and functional. After starting out on basic duties like filing, Jaya was rapidly given far more responsibility.

With so many key NHS workers from overseas, an important part of her work was applying to the Home Office for visa extensions enabling them to continue to work here legally. One central aspect was ensuring that NHS workers’ identification – passports, visa stamps and biometric cards – complied with immigration legislation, a complicated process demanding great focus and accuracy. She has also spoke by telephone and email to Covid response workers to create complex spreadsheets outlining when and where they were allocated to work.

“I’ve been surprised at the calm atmosphere in and around the hospital,” Jaya admitted.

“The sheer quantity of people who’ve been brought in made me think the recruitment department would be overwhelmed, but everyone has gone above and beyond their usual roles to get everything done. There’s great teamwork and organisation and everyone here is helping each other get through what is, and will be, a tough time.”

Jaya, like the rest of her contemporaries is naturally disappointed that so many of the usual school leavers’ celebrations, proms and farewell gatherings have been unavoidably cancelled. A gifted sportswoman, she is also an England junior rounders international, and plays and coaches netball to a high level, all activities which are currently on hold.

“There’s great teamwork and organisation and everyone here is helping each other get through what is, and will be, a tough time” – Jaya Patel

However, she is convinced that her hospital work will stand her in good stead in her chosen career. Her father is a consultant cardiologist and chief medical officer of UCHW, so she is already familiar with the demands of the profession and has an offer to read medicine at Nottingham University from September.

KEHS is renowned for producing numerous medics and scientists, and Jaya believes having the chance to explore areas beyond the basic syllabus has helped set her future course.

“I’ve really enjoyed studying epidemiology in geography, particularly pandemics (prior to Covid-19),” Jaya explained. “So this has given me an academic foundation of knowledge about the current outbreak, which I’ve followed closely since it first started in Wuhan. Studying biology has also helped me understand it from a biological perspective and get a more rounded view of the current crisis.

“I don’t yet know which area I want to specialise in, but I co-ran the school MedSoc and loved sharing my experiences with younger aspiring doctors. I also presented a seminar on the medical research project I was involved in – I’d love to do more of this.

“Being on the corporate side of the NHS has given me a fascinating insight into the inner workings of the hospital. I now really appreciate the huge dedication and hard work, not just of the doctors and nurses, but of all NHS staff and key workers who enable us to stay safe and live our lives, albeit slightly differently than usual!

“I feel really proud and privileged to be a part of what is a truly remarkable hospital.”

KEHS principal Ann Clark said: “We’re hugely proud of Jaya’s work for the NHS. She’s one of a number of our girls who’ve taken on very worthwhile and responsible roles during the current crisis and I know that this experience will be extremely useful when she begins her medical career.”

You might also like: Sixth formers offer online tutoring to peers concerned about lockdown

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