WAIT until you graduate. Wait until you are a proper doctor. Wait a few more years.
Seemingly from the moment we enter medical school until the moment we leave, medical students across Australia are told that they need to “wait” before they can start saving lives.
Many of you reading might think that this is fair enough. Observing the excited and fresh first-year medical students just at the beginning of learning, you would be forgiven for questioning how they can make a considerable impact.
It is no secret that blood is important – our crimson life source is romanticised by poets and warriors alike, symbolic of both life and death. I’m sure I do not need an appeal to literature to explain blood’s unique importance to those already in the world of contemporary medicine.
However, the issue of blood supply continues to be complex and dire. With the impacts of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, bushfires and flooding on donations, blood products continue to be in relatively short supply nationwide.
In fact, following the recent floods in New South Wales and Queensland, Lifeblood issued an urgent call for blood donations due to a massive shortfall of donors.
Unfortunately, these urgent calls have become commonplace in the pandemic age, with even the smallest interruption in the chain potentially resulting in devastating ramifications.
That is why it has never been more important for people to donate blood, and for new donors to start donating regularly.
Here’s where the Australian Medical Student’s Association’s (AMSA) aptly named Vampire Cup comes into play.
Brushing over the images of pointed teeth, long capes and other gothic tropes that the name might conjure up, the Vampire Cup is, simply, AMSA’s annual blood donation drive. It is run as a competition between Australia’s 22 medical schools to see who can donate the most blood over a 2-month period.
The Australian Red Cross Lifeblood facilitates our national blood drive with each university having a Lifeblood donation group to electronically record donation numbers.
In 2021, the competition saw more than 3500 donations which can save the lives of more than 10 500 people.
One of those numbers was a 20-year-old motorcycle accident victim who desperately needed blood to survive.
One of those numbers was a young child with leukaemia who, without blood transfusions, would not be able to live another day.
One of those numbers was a bushfire victim who suffered massive burns as flames engulfed their home and was in serious need of blood.
They are more than just numbers, and I think we can all appreciate that. Indeed, I believe that it’s these stories behind the numbers that spurred many of us to even consider this field in the first place.
Although I would not be confident that every first-year medical student would be able to correctly identify a p-wave on an electrocardiogram, I would be confident of their motivation and determination to mobilise, unite and better the lives of those around them.
This is why AMSA has championed the Vampire Cup for almost a decade
A particular focus for this year’s Vampire Cup will be to not just encourage blood donations during the competition, but to work to establish a culture of blood donation that will hopefully last long after medical school and into professional careers.
By harnessing the enthusiasm and drive of Australia’s future doctors and directing it towards positive change, we are not only saving lives in the short term, but we are establishing a powerful philosophy based on benevolence and altruism.
A philosophy that everyone can help, regardless of their background, age, sex, race, sexuality, experience, profession or intelligence. A philosophy that will not only serve medical students well in their careers, but also as actors in society at large.
In 2022, we anticipate that the Vampire Cup will be the biggest and best we have ever seen as we say goodbye to many of the restrictions on movement that have impacted on donations over the past couple of years. Surprisingly, we have seen a steady increase in blood donations year-on-year despite this hardship, and the current trajectory of this year’s competition shows that we’re right on track to achieve this again.
So yes. You don’t need to wait until you graduate. You don’t need to wait until you are a proper doctor. You don’t need to wait a few years.
You can start saving lives today, and we’ve got a bloody good way of doing it.
Peumike Dissanayake is the 2022 National Coordinator of the AMSA Vampire Cup. He is a Bachelor of Medical Science/Doctor of Medicine (MD) Student at Monash University.
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