In the Czech Republic, the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic peaked in late 2020 and early 2021: the country of 10.5 million people leads the world in infections and deaths per capita . In total, some 1.7 million Czechs have fallen ill and to date more than 25,000 people in the EU state have died from COVID-19.
The only thing that kept the Czech healthcare system from collapsing, even when the pandemic was at its peak, was the enormous effort made by the country’s 40,000 or so doctors and 80,000 nurses and caregivers. The fact that there weren’t even more deaths and that hospitals avoided the disaster is in large part thanks to them.
During the pandemic, doctors, nurses and caregivers quickly became heroes in the eyes of the vast majority of Czechs, so it’s no wonder that an image of a nurse from the COVID-19 station of the Bulovka Hospital in Prague was selected as Czech Press Photo of the Year in 2020.
And many think it is fair that they be seen as such because these doctors, nurses and medical professionals have often pushed themselves to the absolute limit. Although hospitals introduced hygiene measures early on and made 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 members of hospital staff contracted COVID-19 at the end of June 2021 – 34 doctors and 54 nurses died from infections at work.
Young Czechs are among those who have volunteered to help fight COVID-19; many now choose medicine as their profession
Healthcare professions gain in prestige
The situation led to a change in society: before the coronavirus pandemic, interest in the medical professions was so low that Czech hospitals had to hire staff from abroad, mainly in Slovakia and Ukraine. The number of Czechs who now pass entrance exams to health care training programs has increased by more than 50% over the past year.
âThe coronavirus pandemic is largely responsible for the increased reputation of the medical professions,â Karel Cvachovec, dean of the faculty of health sciences at the Technical University of Liberec, told the web portal seznam.cz. “People realized, almost in real time, how essential such professions are and that those with such training could still 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 has created a demand for these professions. COVID-19 has shown how vital the sector is.” Deputy Dean Karel Sladek told DW that one of the main drivers of increased interest in the medical professions is the social prestige they have gained during the pandemic.
âMany young people have seen serious action on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus – and they are not about to be scared, quite the contrary, they are pursuing careers in the healthcare system,â says Sladek. This is good, he added, because the health professions make sense. In addition, the sector is “promising and stable, especially since the number of graduates currently will not be sufficient to fill all the positions that will become available as the Czech health system doubles in size in the coming years”.
Karel Sladek says young people entering the healthcare profession will easily find stable employment in the future
Lack of money and internships
Yet despite the growing interest in health care training, the Czech government has yet to adequately fund training institutions. This means that these cannot accept more interns than they could before the pandemic. “We need an analysis of how many people want to enter the health professions and what it would cost to train them,” Czech Health Minister Adam Vojtech recently told public radio Czech Radio.
According to a study commissioned by the University of Pardubice, the state will have to double the posts of nursing trainees if it hopes to meet the country’s future needs. Currently, such training costs around â¬ 4,000 ($ 4,680) per year.
Thousands of volunteers
Beyond professional healthcare training, the coronavirus pandemic has also sparked interest in volunteer work in healthcare facilities. About 3,000 Czechs, including the author of this article, have received basic Red Cross training. Some 1,500 of them were called in to help in hospitals during the darkest days of the pandemic and hundreds more were helped in nursing homes and other health facilities.
Many of these people have continued to volunteer even though the coronavirus has subsided. “Interest in volunteer work has definitely increased, even now more and more people are still asking how they can help,” Ilona Kyrsova, coordinator of the Prague University Hospital Volunteer Center, told DW.
She herself is a person who left her old profession to get involved in health care. âI had a good job in a multinational, but during the coronavirus pandemic I decided to do something that I found more important and meaningful,â says Kyrsova. “This job gives meaning to my life.”
This article was translated from German by Jon Shelton