COVID-19 FAQs

DISCLAIMER: All information here was correct as of 1st April 2020.

A Message from Professor Vlado Perkovic

We find ourselves in extraordinary times where the world is changing in the way that it hasn't changed for over a century. Understandably that's causing a lot of anxiety. People are worried about themselves, their families, their futures, and about society more broadly. And of course, this is a natural response. None of us can say with any certainty what the future holds.

This extraordinary challenge is also an extraordinary opportunity. Out of this complex situation, I think some wonderful opportunities will arise and people amongst the student body will have the opportunity to do extraordinary things that would not have otherwise existed.

Even with that in mind, here at the Faculty of Medicine at UNSW, rest assured that our number one priority is the health and wellbeing of every single one of our students. Equally important is making sure that you progress in your studies and that you achieve your educational goals on time, on target and with all the support that you need going forward.

Here you’ll find answers to common questions we’ve received from students. If your query isn’t covered, remember our door is open. Please do submit your question and we’ll provide an answer as soon as we can.

Is there a possibility that any years would have to defer and repeat their year? If so, what impact would this have on the years below?

The health and wellbeing of students is our top priority but at the same time, we are also doing everything possible to enable our students to progress in their programs and if possible, to graduate on time. At this moment we can continue clinical placements for Phase 3 of the Medicine Program. Phase 2 students have now ceased their clinical attachments and work is underway to reconfigure their timetable to ensure students will graduate on time. Phase 1 of the Medicine program is now completely online and many of the clinical activities have been converted to virtual activities.

How will the pass/fail scheme of online exams affect marks for eligibility for Honours (i.e. >65 WAM)?

As some aspects of assessments and exams are still being developed, we may need to look at a different way of establishing who is eligible for Honours.

Could the 2nd year SH examination be changed to a take home task? Online examinations seem to provide too much opportunity for dishonesty + unfair advantages.

We've been canvassing and working very closely with the student representatives regarding online exams versus take home exams. We have established for some Phase 1 courses a pass/fail grading system for online exams. We expect all our students to behave with integrity and professionalism through this time. There will be more correspondence regarding this in coming weeks.

Are there any reason 3rd year students are still being expected to turn up to hospitals?

No, all clinical placements for Year 3 students ceased on Monday 23rd March.

Is there any reason why UNSW Medicine has failed to standardise the amount of exposure between hospitals? Vinnies & POW, St George etc.?

We are working with all contacts in our hospitals and across NSW Health more broadly to ensure we have a consistent approach to clinical placements. While we are attempting to have a degree of uniformity across our clinical schools, we recognise that advice at each hospital is different. The Faculty continues to be in close contact with our clinical schools and teaching clinical staff.

Without clinical placements we will NOT be able to practice on real patients. Any thoughts on how this exam can be re-designed?

We've been liaising with MedSoc and with the Phase 3 Convenors and Heads of Clinical Schools about these issues. At present the plan is to run the Phase 3 integrated clinical examination in September as originally scheduled, following consultation with MedSoc. We recognise that given the current circumstances; the format of the exam might need to be altered. The Faculty will consult with students prior to deciding on any changes in the exam formats.

Any thoughts on removing the White Book requirements given most in-ward experiences are likely to be cancelled? This is a stressful requirement at the moment.

We recognise that this is a period of significant change and things are changing frequently. The Faculty continues to monitor the situations and respond in ways to ensure our students can continue to meet the requirements of their degree. In that spirit, we will continue to seek feedback and suggestions from your Phase representatives in MedSoc. In the meantime, do not stress about not filling your white book, we will have more to say about this in coming weeks.

What is the faculty decision on overseas electives? I don't want to start applying and paying the placement fees if it will be cancelled.

In their current forms, the travel bans announced by the Federal Government preclude exiting the country for most purposes. It is not possible to make an assessment on how long these travel bans will be in place. Elective terms might also be needed to make up for clinical placements disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, our advice is to plan as if electives will not be available this year.

Why are UNSW Medicine students still in clinical placements?

UNSW Medicine take the view that our Phase 3 students are valuable resources in the medical system. Given the current trajectory of COVID-19 cases in NSW and the country more broadly, we also believe that our medical students will be in a position to help in this crisis. We are working with NSW Health to enable paid Assistant in Medicine roles for Year 6 Medicine students, as well as reconfiguring other clinical placements to facilitate students’ contributions to clinical care. While on clinical placements, you must ensure that you are following the hospital’s hand hygiene policy and wearing the appropriate PPE.

Please keep in mind, that patients will still continue to attend healthcare settings with various presenting complaints and conditions, which afford students with valuable learning opportunities.

Is there any possibility of using the PRINT term as a "catch-up" term to complete assessments/teaching/clinical activities missed during these months?

This may be a possibility for some students. We will be looking at the timings dependent on which clinical attachments are available.

There was also a 6th year question about using the selective term to make up any components that you miss. That's exactly what we want to do. We're going to be moving things around to adapt for any crucial elements you might have missed. Please be reassured no one is going to be asked to do any assessments that are unreasonable and at the same time we will take all reasonable steps to enable you to become interns next year.

I have heard that NSW health have proposed a “sub-intern” role for final year medical students. Is this true? If so, what will this entail?

There are currently discussions underway about what the health care system will need over coming weeks and months. We're clearly in a situation where it appears there is going to be a large volume of patients requiring acute clinical care in our hospital system.

The possibility of a voluntary paid clinical role for final year students in the health system is currently under discussion with NSW Health and other medical schools. We are trying to find a way to do this in a safe environment for students who wish to undertake this role and who are able to. It is now called an Assistant in Medicine role.

We believe that that the roles currently being framed would fit well with the graduate capabilities that are needed for our students to graduate so that that students who voluntarily took on those roles would be on track to meet their graduate capabilities.

We would want those if students took on those roles to be accredited as part of their medical training. We also want them to have adequate support at each location and to have access to educational resource is as well.

Before any of our students could take on that role, they would also need a brief, intensive course, with relevant modules/skills that they will need. Some of this will be online and some will be delivered on site, such as PPE training to ensure that they were safe in terms of their user PPE.

Are 6th year students getting fast tracked into the workforce like the UK and other countries final year medicine students?

It's important to remember that the academic year here is different to those countries. The northern hemisphere is coming towards the end of their academic year and we are just at the beginning of ours, so at the moment that is not being considered.

Additionally, there have been discussions in our Faculty, HETI which controls medical training for junior graduates in New South Wales and at the Federal Ministry of Health and Australian Medical Council level. The discussions so far seem to be against the notion of early graduation at this stage, and certainly we couldn't pursue that as a medical school without the support of state and federal accrediting bodies.

The local health district said they would stop letting students come to clinics/wards, should we cancel OSCE?

Firstly, we acknowledge it's been an incredibly tough few weeks for a lot of students. We totally understand that, and we want stress that you're supported by the Faculty.

The good news is that the NSW Health is incredibly supportive of maintaining clinical placements and attachments and their understanding is that you're a vital part of the health care team and you should be embedded. You should be helpful, and you should be learning and all of this heading towards completion of your program. So, although we know there are hiccups and there are various places that have special considerations that will perhaps stop you from doing what you would normally do or having the attachment you would normally have. We will be shuffling around a huge amount of stuff to make sure that we can get things done for you wherever possible.

Should I attend if I am sick to keep my attendance record?

Do not attend if you are sick. Stay home. Under no circumstances whatsoever should you attend clinical placements while ill. That should apply anytime, but especially during the present crisis.

What if I feel pressured to attend or do something where I am not comfortable?

No one can force you to attend or perform something which makes you feel uncomfortable. You have our backing and support to step out of any such situation. If you have experienced a situation like this, please email the Clinical School Education Support team or the MESO team outlining the situation and we will respond as soon as possible.

We will develop a sheet that outlines the rules of engagement that we will circulate not only to all of our students across all of our courses, but also to all of the supervisors, all of the academics involved in teaching so that we're all on the same page with regards to how we approach this.

What if I have a condition that places me more at risk or an at-risk person at home?

We want every student to put your health first. If you feel that there's some risk to you into getting into a particular situation, speaking to a patient who's got respiratory disease or going into a ward round with people who may have COVID-19 infection, do not participate. Walk away and you will not be in any way discriminated against or punished. We absolutely support your right to make your own judgments about situations in which you feel safe.

If it turns out that that means that you can't participate in any of the activities, please let us know.
We can’t emphasise enough that your safety is key to us and we'll do everything we can to help empower you to continue your training.

The University campus remains open, however there is no face to face teaching. Along with that, there are some closures on the University campus, including but not limited to the Library. For all information regarding the University’s response to COVID-19, please go to Information for Students. At present, according to NSW government directives, all people are expected to stay at home except for a number of specified reasons.

For students in early stages of their programs clinical experience can more easily be moved perhaps or deferred for the moment, and then introduced at a later stage. However, for people who are in their final year, those clinical skills become crucial and we're committed to ensuring you get the skills that you need in a safe and effective way. We're working on some guidance that we hope to share with all students and with all of the supervisors that might help to do that.

Please be assured that as we talk through and respond to these questions, all the programs are being considered, not just undergraduate Medicine.

Will VIVA releases occur on time, be delayed, or is there a possibility for an earlier release so that if placements are put on hold, we have something to do?

We understand that there a couple of Exercise Physiology courses that have Viva components. While some of these vivas will go ahead but online, others may be changed or postponed. We suggest getting in contact with the course convenor regarding this as the advice will be different for each course.

How will we learn our skills without labs?

Laboratory classes form an important part of the Exercise Physiology program. We recognise that we are unable to perform these lab classes at the moment. The Exercise Physiology team is working closely with the Faculty of Medicine, to ensure we continue to ensure skills development where possible. Classes that are essential and cannot be made into an online session will be rescheduled.

As an international student, if we decide to go home, can we come back to Australia?

As you would be aware, the Federal Government has announced a strict travel ban on all inbound travel to Australia, unless you are a permanent resident or citizen. We cannot foresee how long this travel ban will remain in place. You should be able to continue to access Moodle and other key university sites from your home.

In terms of returning, we suggest students check the following websites for advice:

For the Medicine program we have conveyed directly to different cohorts of students changes to their Phases and our recommendation for returning home.

Will returning home affect our study?

We recognise for some of our years it will be easier to continue studying remotely than other years. For our Phase 1 and Phase 2 (some parts) medical students, the continuation of online learning is absolutely possible. We have already announced changes to Year 3 to enable students to study remotely for T2 and commit to working with students if they are unable to return for T3 due to travel bans. We have contingency plans prepared.

The overarching response is about recognising and supporting the desire of our students to wish to go back home. This also relates to our rural students wanting to return home to be closer to their families at this time.
As a faculty, we will be as supportive as we possibly can be with our students' desire to do that.

Students may leave at this time, provided that you continue to meet online course requirements. This will not delay your graduation, unless you wish to take program leave. Please be aware that if you do return to your home country, UNSW cannot guarantee when you will be able to return to Australia due to the enforcement of international travel bans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What should international students returning home do about school fees?

Tuition fees are being considered at a University level. Information regarding fees will be found by going to Information for Students.

What should international students returning home do about accommodation fees?

The University has provided information for students in these circumstances and this information can be found at Information for Students.

Program Leave and Visa Queries for International Students

For any enquiries regarding program leave, please contact Ms Zara Cupina in the Medicine Education and Student Office (meso@unsw.edu.au) for the Medicine Program or your relevant School Office.

For international students there will be no impact on your student visa as you remain enrolled in your courses and have an active COE. We do however recommend you always check VEVO for your visa status before returning to Australia.
If you would like further advice or support, please email international.student@unsw.edu.au.

Will UNSW PhD scholarships still be paid for both domestic and international students.

Scholarship payments continue as per normal for all enrolled candidates who are scholarship recipients. If candidates are unable to do any work on their project, they should be applying for Program Leave as per the notification sent to them. While on Program Leave, their scholarship is suspended. Otherwise they should discuss with their Supervisors if there is some other aspect of their project that they can work on.

The GRS understands that many candidates are reliant on their scholarship stipend for living expenses. Please be assured that no candidate will be compelled to go on leave.

Will PhD students will have to pay extra fees if they go over time due to COVID-19 and also would scholarships be extended, or would students have to pay?

Our immediate concern is to ensure that research impacts due to COVID-19 are mitigated as much as possible. Research Project Reviews will have an explicit focus on recalibrating the progress plan to address these exceptional circumstances. Candidates are encouraged to document as much as possible the challenges that the pandemic and societal changes have caused for their research, so that their supervisors are best able to engage in a discussion on altering or delaying the planned project.

Currently there are no extensions to scholarships or waiving of tuition fees for those required to pay (as only international candidates pay tuition fees if not covered by a scholarship). If a decision is made to do this, then it would certainly be communicated to all relevant parties.

A reminder that international candidates who are liable for tuition fees and who are in the writing up phase of their thesis, are able to request a writing up discount of 50% for a maximum of 2 terms of enrolment – subject to certain conditions being met. Information on this is available under the heading for Enrolment at UNSW Research.

As outlined above we are in discussions with the NSW Ministry of Health and other medical schools to potentially establish an 'Assistant in Medicine’ position for our final year medical students to work with a clinical team during this period.

There will be other areas where students can be involved, such as volunteer activities, as well as research where we need students to come and help collect data or analyse data.

We are working to keep you updated as we can as often as possible. We are sending frequent emails and recognise there is a large volume of information flowing. Nevertheless, we encourage you to keep track of your emails.

Many of your student representatives are attending regular meetings with Faculty. They will provide ongoing communications to other students. Your student representatives are channelling information from you to the Faculty, as well as disseminating information to you.

You can also submit questions to MedicineAnnounce@unsw.edu.au and we will answer them as quickly as possible.