Europe

COVID-19: Pandemic makes health care professions fashionable in the Czech Republic

Published : August 23, 2021 18:57 IST

Health professionals became the heroes of the nation as the coronvirus threatened to overwhelm hospitals. Photo: Roman Vondrous/CTK/dpa/picture alliance

Health care workers came to be seen as heroes during the coronavirus pandemic, attracting young Czechs to the field.

In the Czech Republic, the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic reached its peak in late 2020 and early 2021: The country of 10.5 million led the world in per-capita infections and deaths. In all, some 1.7 million Czechs became ill and to date more than 25,000 people in the EU state have died as a result of COVID-19.

The only thing that kept the Czech health care system from collapsing, even when the pandemic was at its worst, was the enormous effort put forth by the country's roughly 40,000 doctors and 80,000 nurses and caregivers. The fact that there weren't even more deaths and that hospitals avoided catastrophe is largely thanks to them.

During the pandemic, doctors, nurses and caregivers quickly became heroes in the eyes of the vast majority of Czechs, which is it is no wonder that an image of a nurse at the Bulovka Hospital Prague's COVID-19 station was selected as Czech Press Photo of the Year in 2020.

And many think it is right that they are seen as such because those doctors, nurses and health care professionals often pushed themselves to the absolute limit. Despite hospitals introducing hygiene measures early on and making sure staff were among the very first in the country to be vaccinated, the Czech Medical Chamber says some 12,000 doctors, 30,000 nurses, and 25,000 hospital staff contracted COVID-19 by late June 2021 — 34 doctors and 54 nurses died as a result of becoming infected at work.

Health care professions gaining prestige

The situation brought about a shift in society: Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, interest in medical care professions was so low that Czech hospitals had to hire personnel from abroad, mainly Slovakia and Ukraine. The number of Czechs now taking entrance exams for health care training programs has increased by more than 50 per cent over the past year.

"The coronavirus pandemic is largely responsible for the increased standing of medical professions," as Karel Cvachovec, dean of faculty for health sciences at Technical University Liberec told web portal seznam.cz. "People realized, almost in real-time, just how indispensable such professions are and that those with such training would always be able to find a job."

Nursing is 'promising and stable'

Jana Hola, dean of the medical department at the University of Pardubice, confirmed this, saying: "The pandemic created demand for those professions. COVID-19 showed how vital the sector is." Assistant Dean Karel Sladek told DW that one of the main drivers for increased interest in medical professions is the social prestige they acquired during the course of the pandemic.

"Many young people saw serious action on the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus — and they are not about to let themselves be scared away, quite the opposite in fact, they are pursuing careers in the health system," says Sladek. That's good, he added, because health care professions are meaningful. Moreover, the sector is "promising and stable, especially considering the number of people graduating right now will not be nearly enough to fill all of the positions that will become available as the Czech health care system doubles in size over the coming years."

Lacking money and traineeships

Still, despite the growing interest in health care training, the Czech government has yet to adequately finance training institutions. That means these cannot accept any more trainees than they could prior to the pandemic. "We need an analysis of how many people want to go into health care professions and what it would cost to train them," Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech recently told public broadcaster Czech Radio.

According to a study commissioned by the University of Pardubice, the state will have to double nursing traineeship positions if it hopes to cover the country's future needs. Currently, such training costs about €4,000 ($4,680) a year.

Thousands of volunteers

Beyond professional health care training, the coronavirus pandemic also sparked interest in volunteer work at health care facilities. Roughly 3,000 Czechs — including the author of this article — have taken part in basic Red Cross training. Some 1,500 of them were called up to help at hospitals during the darkest days of the pandemic and hundreds more assisted in nursing homes and other health facilities.

Many of those people have continued to do volunteer work even though the coronavirus has ebbed. "Interest in volunteer work has definitely grown, even now more people are still asking how they can help," Ilona Kyrsova, a coordinator at the University Hospital of Prague's volunteer center, told DW.

She herself is a person who left her former profession to become involved in health care. "I had a good job at a multinational corporation but during the coronavirus pandemic I decided I'd rather do something I found more important and meaningful," explains Kyrsova. "This work gives my life meaning."

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