Ellie Rabinowitz
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Volunteering in a pandemic

For most of our students, the English lockdown has meant a delayed return to Cambridge, and teaching moving entirely online for Lent Term. While this has obviously brought significant restrictions to their lives, three Fitz students have been taking the opportunity of being closer to home to get involved in their local communities’ vaccination programmes.

For Emma Shaw (Linguistics, 2019) and George Brown (Medicine, 2019) - spending lockdown together at George’s house in Birmingham – it was Emma’s interest in first aid that opened up the possibility of wielding a needle:

“I’m a member of the Cambridge First Aid Society – and currently weighing up a career in either Law or as a paramedic – and CUFAS gave me the opportunity to get some experience. Because of COVID all of our sessions – which are supported by the St John’s Ambulance - have obviously been online – but the idea behind the society is that you can learn enough skills to first aid support for events (May Balls etc.) and volunteer at Addenbrookes.”

But just as COVID has restricted the possibility of in-person practice, the virus has also opened up a more urgent need – vaccinations. The St John’s Ambulance put the call out for volunteers in December ( and both George and Emma signed up.

George and Emma
George and Emma in their St John's uniforms


As Emma explains, “You don’t need any specific qualifications really – just two A-Levels – and mine were in things like Latin and Greek (!)…and then you complete online training modules, attend an in-person training day, and then you’re qualified and can be called up to vaccinate when there’s a need in your area”.

As a second-year Medic, George has been impressed by the quality of the training, “We don’t start with real arms, but practice mannequins – a bit like those used for CPR. The tough part is getting used to doing it in full PPE: mask, apron, gloves and a visor. It’s really hot and uncomfortable, and of course, you need to keep it on for a full shift.”

Both are keen to get going ‘for real’ and are pleased to have had their first ‘call-ups’ allocated this week. Emma – who was prevented from visiting nearby Lichfield Cathedral due to lockdown restrictions – is hoping for a posting there, but both are planning to travel to wherever they are needed in the local area.

Ellie Rabinowitz
Ellie in her local surgery


Behind every vaccinator, there are a whole team of supporting staff and volunteers, and Fitz second-year Engineer, Ellie Rabinowitz has been working at her local GP surgery in Hertfordshire. “They were one of the first practices in the county to start vaccinating, so it’s been really exciting…and they need a lot of admin staff as well as nurses to make the vaccine roll-out run smoothly. Once the word came through that they would be receiving vaccine supply, the practice set up an admin team, and I signed up”. Far from a ‘backroom’ role, the admin staff in practices have become the frontline in supporting patients, tackling questions and concerns. For many of the elderly, only venturing out of their homes for the first time in months, this has also meant offering some much-needed company. “You have a real mixture – some are very keen to ‘just get it done’, others are desperate for some conversation. The doctors and nurses are incredible – remember this is usually happening over the weekends, and around the surgery’s normal business. There’s a real feeling of everyone working together: it reminds me of what’s important in life.”

All three of the students are keen for others to consider volunteering locally, whether in a medical capacity or in other organisations. The St John’s Ambulance are still asking for volunteers via their website,, and although many GP surgeries will be extremely busy day-to-day at the moment, Ellie was enthusiastic that others might want to investigate part-time work or volunteering at surgeries: “Be proactive in asking and patient if you can’t get through the first time. It is busy at the moment, but vaccinations are going to become the norm, at least for the next 6-9 months, and frankly surgeries will welcome the extra resources.”







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