As medical students, we at times feel that given the hierarchical structure of medicine we have little to no ability to create real change. Not quite enough authority, limited experience and no coveted degree. However, the COVID-19 pandemic changed a lot of things, including social structures. And we’ve found ourselves compelled to serve as volunteers to support our healthcare workers on the front lines. While they are risking their lives every day, we are working to support their families and collaborate with our Pittsburgh communities to find unique solutions to very real problems. From child care to food and medication delivery and plans in the works to do contact tracing with the county health department, we are putting our skills and connections to work during these unprecedented times.
There are five of us, fourth-year medical students at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. While we all have our unique academic interests and career aspirations, we all share a passion for community health, social justice and commitment to health care access. Before the true brunt of the coronavirus came to the United States, we were closely following reports from physicians in other countries. Warning signs were coming from Italy and China and now the health care system in our country must meet the demands of sick patients.
Our group came together in mid-March. A few days later, Pitt’s School of Medicine decided to pull out all students from their clinical rotations across the UPMC health system. Within hours of coming together as student leaders, we assembled a volunteer cohort of 150 Pitt medical students who were interested in helping out. We later expanded our volunteer cohort to other Pitt health professions students and local medical students at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. At first, we envisioned ourselves mainly volunteering in clinical settings, doing tasks like patient intake and changing over exam rooms. But in the last few weeks, we have taken on as many volunteer opportunities as we could handle.
The biggest need we have identified thus far has been child care for healthcare workers as they are continuing to work after unexpected and extensive school and day care closings. Some families need emergency on-call child care if they are called in to work an extra shift or one of their patients has a medical emergency. Other parents are now doing telemedicine from home and need someone to watch their kids while they work. Others need full-time child care so they can work their normal hours. We’ve helped 30 families so far with at least some of their needs. Positive feedback and all, we are still unable to meet the child care needs of the healthcare community here in Pittsburgh.
Three healthcare workers collect donated breakfast and coffee for the staff in the Emergency Department at UPMC Presbyterian. Donation money was collected from the community and used to buy food from Friendship Perk & Brew. (Photo from Feeding the Frontline Pittsburgh)
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Supporting the front line: As medical students, we’re adapting our skills for unprecedented times