Published: 09 November 2020

Trainee vet supports local hospital as a Covid-19 PPE volunteer

Veterinary medicine and science student, Jack Church, became a Covid-19 volunteer during summer, helping healthcare staff put on and take off personal protective equipment (PPE), in addition to checking the safety of ventilators made for the NHS. In a short interview, Jack reveals more about his experience, including what inspired him to help and his day-to-day tasks.

Volunteering at John Radcliffe Hospital

What inspired you to volunteer?

Both of my parents have been involved throughout the pandemic and seeing the differences they’ve made was my main inspiration to look for ways I could help. In addition, my mum is a community nurse, working in Covid-19 positive areas, so it made sense to have two people from the same household on the frontline.

How did you find out about volunteering?

I heard through a contact at the Hospital that there were short-term opportunities available, due to staff having to shield. I initially expressed interest for admin roles but was offered a donning and doffing role in the Adult Intensive Care Unit (AICU).

When did you volunteer here?

I started volunteering at the beginning of April, working 12-hour night shifts until mid-June, with a short break in the middle for my exams.

Trainee vet, Jack Church, in PPE.
Jack in PPE

What did you do on a day-to-day basis?

I helped nurses and doctors ‘don’ their PPE at the beginning of their shifts, making sure this was on correctly and no areas were missed. Staff would then enter the AICU and the team they were relieving would enter the ‘doffing sheds’, ready to have their PPE removed.

Here, I would assist staff correctly ‘doff’ (remove) their PPE and help to dispose of this, and sanitise the different points of the doffing process, to maintain the ‘clean’ and ‘dirty’ zones. I also helped doff other members of staff, including paramedics bringing in new patients.

As my time at the Hospital progressed, so did the role. I started to work within the AICU, including rolling patients. I was a bit hesitant and out of my comfort zone at first but was happy to help wherever I could!

Were you able to apply your vet training to the tasks you were given?

Yes. I was able to apply this to lots of my tasks, like aseptic (free from contamination) technique and working with samples. It also allowed me to support the people around me in such an intense environment.

Were there any highlight moments?

There were so many but one of my fondest memories was the gratitude I received from the staff I worked with. They were so appreciative of the help I was able to give them, and it was incredibly humbling.

I found parts of my time at the Hospital very draining, yet the staff around me (many working full-time) never seemed to let it get to them. Everyone has rough days, but they were constantly supportive and a pleasure to work with.

How do you feel knowing you’ve been able to help those in need?

Very grateful that I was able to help, especially as opportunities to volunteer were limited.

"I helped nurses and doctors ‘don’ their PPE at the beginning of their shifts, making sure this was on correctly and no areas were missed."

Testing ventilators out in industry

After you finished your volunteering, how else did you help?

I ended up working full-time for Penlon, a company that develops, manufactures and exports medical devices, who are currently making ventilators for the NHS, as part of the VentilatorChallengeUK.

Here, I was a final test inspector, running programs and assessing the overall quality of the ventilators, checking for traceability and other issues. My knowledge of anaesthetic machines from my vet training, paid dividends!

Although this was different from my frontline volunteering at the hospital, I still got a sense of achievement from the experience, especially when we tested the 10,000th ventilator!

What did you go on to do after this?

I still wanted to help where I could, so found a job as a final test operator at Surface Technology International, a specialist electronics manufacturer. Like what I was doing at Penlon, I checked ventilators for any issues and made sure they were safe for use.

"My knowledge of anaesthetic machines from my vet training, paid dividends!"

Reflections and advice

Have these experiences changed your outlook at all?

Definitely! Seeing how the AICU staff responded to the pandemic, putting their own safety and wellbeing at risk to help those in need, has shown me that there can be positives in even the most challenging circumstances.

Do you have any advice for others looking to volunteer during the pandemic?

Although it can be difficult to find ways to help, don’t give up! I managed to secure my roles through existing relationships but there are a lot of positions advertised online by NHS England. There are so many people who’ll benefit from your contribution and any way you can support in these unprecedented times, won’t go unnoticed!

"There can be positives in even the most challenging circumstances."

Find out more about how we’re helping support our local communities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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