When UBC medical school classes were suspended due to COVID-19, six fellow students were left wondering what they could do to help during the crisis. Recognizing that medical students have the capacity and experience to support frontline health care workers and their families, and to help from a public health perspective, the six students, Morgan Haines, Vivian Tsang, Zach Sagorin, Alec Yu, Geoffrey Ching, and Devon Mitchell, joined forces to form a grassroots volunteer initiative now called the BC Covid-19 Medical Student Response Team.
According to Alec, the group quickly discovered that doctors and other health care workers were keen to take them up on their offer of support. “We have been helping with childcare, pet care, grocery deliveries, as well as delivery of prescriptions and outreach for isolated older adults,” he says. In addition, the team supports public heath efforts like contact tracing, call centre support, and research. The six students now serve as members of the team’s Steering Committee and help track health care provider requests and match them with available student volunteers.
Word about the student response team has spread quickly. “We have benefitted from widespread media uptake,” explains Zach, “And, we’ve publicized the program through both social media platforms and direct emails to physicians.” The organization has a media team that created a twitter handle and a website for more widespread dissemination.
Currently, the BC Covid-19 Medical Student Response Team has more than 700 students providing over 550 different support activities, including 70 students staffing 811 lines. The interest and uptake has led the response team to create a “mobilization toolkit” comprising intake forms, recruitment information, tracking spreadsheets, and other documents to support other students and professional groups who want to create similar programs.
“The mobilization toolkit is a resource that has been shared with student leaders from different departments such as nursing, pharmacy, occupational therapy, midwifery, and dentistry,” explains Vivian. “We have also circulated this as a resource for our fellow medical students from other Canadian universities.”
Interest in the program has spread internationally as well— medical students from the United States and Australia have also shown interest in adopting similar strategies to empower their students to volunteer. Groups who express interest and are sent the mobilization toolkit participate in an onboarding process with the team. “We also invite new participants to a group chat so that everyone can help brainstorm solutions if they have issues that arise,” explains Morgan.
The group has received support from a number of sources, including financial support and legal counsel from Doctors of BC. Funding from Doctors of BC, says Devon, has helped launch the group’s website, and will also allow for partial reimbursements of expenses incurred by students during the course of providing support to frontline workers. The organization has also been a point of contact to share information about the initiative with clinicians in the community who may not otherwise have heard of the program.
Support from the BC Covid-19 Medical Student Response Team is making a profound difference for doctors, other frontline workers, and their families. Dr Simon Moore, a family physician in Vancouver for whom Geoff and the team organized childcare, says the program has been an enormous benefit to his family.
“Our clinic was hit with a huge surge in the number of patients during the initial outbreak and I was able to add several more shifts on short notice,” says Dr Moore. “The help of the UBC medical students who organized the program was incredible. Their assistance went far beyond the volunteer hours; they relieved so much time and stress that would have been otherwise spent on searching for quality child care.”
Doctors of BC thanks every medical student in BC who is stepping up to help during the COVID-19 pandemic.
To learn more about the BC Covid-19 Medical Student Response Team, visit covid19medstudents.ca.
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