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Seven days in the shadow of corona: a diary from the head of studies administration

It all began with the cancellation of all theoretical teaching for medical students on the Master’s degree programme. Moments later, the whole of Denmark and all physical teaching at the university shut down, leaving the studies administration facing a massive task. Head of Studies Administration at Health, Anna Bak Maigaard, has kept a diary during a week that turned everything upside down..

Monday 9 March: An ordinary day – almost

Before the weekend, there were only a few known corona cases in Denmark, and during Monday the number increases to ninety. It’s just a question of time before something happens at AU – but where and when? AU's senior management holds an after-work meeting for the management group at which we discuss the situation, and in the study area we coordinate the procurement of licences and headsets, so we’re ready to help teaching staff reorganise their teaching with streaming etc. if a degree programme or faculty is forced to shut down. The first to feel the consequences of the worsening situation are students and teaching staff on the Master's degree programme in medicine: On Monday evening they’re notified that theoretical teaching is cancelled in order to avoid the spread of infection among large classes.

Tuesday 10 March: Theoretical teaching on the Master's degree programme in medicine ceases

The first day with cancelled theoretical teaching for our approx. 1,500 students on the Master's degree programme in medicine. The clinical instruction continues. There is a lot of confusion about which classes are cancelled and which will continue. We answer questions throughout the day, and at a meeting in the department we declare it the “day of confusion” (but only because we’ve got no idea what we’ve got in store). I set a personal record in phone calls and emails. And beat it the next day.

Wednesday 11 March: Denmark shuts down

More and more of Health’s students are affected by the consequences of the corona epidemic: Students aren’t able to complete Master's thesis projects and interviews and both incoming and outgoing students are in doubt about what they should do. AU announces that teaching and exams continue as planned with the Master's degree programme in medicine as the only exception. And then comes the press conference on Wednesday evening: Denmark begins to shut down. AU shuts down. And a whole lot of things are clarified via Skype on Wednesday evening/night. A close family member is tested negative for corona – and I get a really good night’s sleep.

Thursday 12 March – Day 1 at home: Cancellation and reorganisation of teaching activities

All teaching is cancelled with immediate effect, and all students are withdrawn from clinical training, internships, etc. We begin work to orchestrate the reorganisation of all teaching at the faculty: Which courses should be streamed? Which should be reorganised in other formats, etc.? At the same time, we manage to man all important functions from home: A hotline for students, case handling, supervision, planning, exams, etc. My colleagues and the employees are extremely impressive and the upheaval goes better than we could have expected. For the first time, I try a long working day with Skype meetings: With earrings and blouse on camera – and jogging bottoms and knitted socks off camera.

Friday 13 March – Day 2 at home: Counter-orders

The medical students still have to attend their clinical training from Monday morning. This decision is made across all regions and medical degree programmes. The aim is to relieve the pressure on the healthcare system while also giving the students the chance to be in the clinic. The day doesn’t go smoothly and ends in total confusion – the individual departments have different opinions and the students ask many good questions that we can’t answer. We end the day tired and without having resolved the matter.

Saturday and Sunday 14-15 March – Weekend?: Counter counter-orders

Nine Skype meetings, 75 sent emails and 26 telephone conversations later it’s clear that we need to prepare a revised clinical training plan, so the students don’t have to attend their clinical training on Monday morning anyway. For many good reasons: Including that some departments are unable to accept students in the current situation. Conversely, some students can’t take part in clinical training, e.g. because they can’t find anyone to take care of their children, are at particular risk, have returned home to Germany/Norway, and so on. So Sunday afternoon at 14:00 we send counter counter-orders to further test the patience of our medical students. Fortunately I manage to get out and briefly enjoy the sunshine but spend the rest of the weekend on a steep learning curve about how coordination is done across regions, hospitals, universities and departments. Hats off to my good colleagues at Denmark’s clinical departments, who navigate in this world all the time. I think I need an internship at the Department of Clinical Medicine once we’re safely on the other side of all this....