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"We showed how it's done"

It was like all previous years and yet different. The medical entrance exam (MedAT) got the pulse of thousands of youngsters racing again this year. It has to be passed if you want to study at the Medical University of Vienna, which has an international reputation.

MedAT is considered to be one of the toughest entrance exams in the German-speaking region. The fact it was held despite coronavirus is thanks to a sophisticated safety concept. Never before did applicants have to comply so meticulously with extensive safety requirements: face covering, hygiene rules and the greatest possible distance.

Particularly challenged was the Medical University (MedUni) of Vienna itself. For the first time, and because of coronavirus, the largest educational institution in Austria allowed budding medical practitioners to sit the exam at two different locations on August 14: applicants from Germany, Salzburg, Tyrol (including South Tyrol), Vorarlberg and Upper Austria demonstrated their medical knowledge at the Messezentrum Salzburg exhibition center. Candidates from all other Austrian provinces, other EU countries, non-EU countries and all those with an interest in dentistry were grilled at Messe Wien.

Sophisticated safety and prevention concept

"People worked incredibly meticulously on the safety and prevent concept for weeks," says Professor Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the department for environmental hygiene and environmental medicine at the Medical University of Vienna. Input came from all corners – infectiological, organizational, legal, and also from the public health side, from vice rector Anita Rieder, and from people who have been holding these exams for many years. "It was worth it," says Hutter. To date, not a single case of COVID-19 is known to have been contracted in connection with the medical entrance exam.

The exam, on the basis of which the sought-after study places are awarded, was originally to have taken place on July 3. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was put back to August 14. Of the 8,217 confirmed applicants for a place to study medicine in Vienna, 6,116 people actually sat the exam. Of these, 4,362 did so at Messe Wien, which was hired for the event.

Temperature measurement and extra rooms

Aaron Schwaiger is one of them. "There were many more security staff than last year," he says. Unlike during the 2019 exam, nobody was allowed to leave the exhibition hall. Applicants even had to eat in the place assigned to them for sitting the exam.

Schwaiger applied for the first time in 2019 and was able to make a comparison. "I didn't prepare myself enough," he says today, self-critically. However, quitting the second exam because of the complicated conditions was never an issue: "I had prepared myself for it too well and too long." Schwaiger is confident of securing one of the 740 sought-after places to study in Vienna. Having done his civilian service at Johanniter International, he noticed how good it is to help people. "It's what drives me," he says.

The site could only be entered and left during an allocated time window. Everyone's temperature was measured contactlessly at the entrance. Keeping one's distance, disinfecting hands, and wearing a face covering away from one's seat (personalized, like every year) were mandatory. For members of risk groups, there were also extra rooms with even larger distances and their own entry times.

Outside air conditions

"By dividing everyone between two locations, we wanted to minimize train journeys through Austria during the peak travel period," says Hutter. On the day of the exam itself, public transport services ran more frequently – this was made possible by the timely involvement of Wiener Linien, the Salzburg transportation department and Austrian Federal Railways. Throughout the indoor area, a distance of two meters had to be kept, both when standing in line and when sitting down. Optimized ventilation was also taken care of to reduce the risk of infection through aerosols. According to Hutter, "The exam was practically written under outside air conditions." PCR tests were also carried out on all examination staff at the university, the security staff and the technical personnel – altogether about 600 people.

"It was the first major event in Austria under coronavirus conditions. We were being watched and showed how it's done and that it can be done," says Hutter taking positive stock. Congress organizers and organizers of larger events that will be possible again in Austria from September could and should use the experiences gained.

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