When medical licensing exams were postponed and medical students were shut out of hospitals due to risks of COVID-19 and the need for all available personal protective equipment (PPE) to go to frontline workers, students could have complained. Instead, they started collaborating on ways to help.
Volunteer efforts being led by students from Indiana University School of Medicine are making an impact in the fight against the novel coronavirus. Students from the school’s nine statewide campuses have stepped up as leaders. They may not be able to serve on the front lines, but they are strong supporters of those who do.
Some are aiding healthcare workers by collecting PPE or providing meal delivery and childcare services. Others are involved with community efforts to support essential workers or help marginalized populations affected by COVID-19.
“The amount of leadership that’s been shown during this crazy time is truly incredible,” said Megan Chiu, president of the IU School of Medicine Medical Student Council (MSC). “People have been channeling their energy into helping others, and it’s really brought the community of medical students together at this time.”
Chiu and several other student leaders--Christina Huang, Abigail Brenner, Rolando Gerena and Rebekah Roll, along with Purdue College of Pharmacy students Claire Schumann and Emily Lee--organized a grassroots effort to support Indiana University Health physicians, nurses and pharmacists who need help with childcare or schooling their children while they are caring for COVID patients. About 120 medical and pharmacy students have signed up to help.
About 50 IU medical students also volunteered to pick up and deliver masks, gloves, gowns and other protective equipment for GetMePPE Indiana. Nearly 30 students joined the Emergency Medicine Wellness Taskforce in placing morale-boosting yard signs at the homes of 100 IU Health physicians and 25 advanced practice providers. And over 50 students showed up to donate blood when they heard there was a shortage due to canceled drives. Third-year medical student Aaron Gilani organized a second drive with the Red Cross for May 13.
When the Indiana University Student Outreach Clinic on Indianapolis’ near east side closed for the safety of patients and volunteers, concerned medical students wanted to ensure the clinic’s clients weren’t left without needed medications. As Continuity of Care chair, Katie Griffin manages a team of medical students who volunteer as patient navigators. This team called all patients and arranged for any who were low or out of medications to pick up a three-month supply. Additionally, Griffin and Maria Khan initiated a fundraising drive to help clinic patients struggling with food insecurity, raising $3,200—mostly from IU School of Medicine students—to give to the food pantry at Neighborhood Fellowship Church (location of the student outreach clinic).
On the Northwest campus, Courtney Raab has gathered a core of about 15 volunteers and coordinates with the Indiana State Department of Health, Lake County Health Department, GetMePPE and local hospitals on a number of volunteer efforts, including contact tracing for COVID-19 patients and nasopharyngeal swabbing at drive-thru testing sites.
“The whole reason I went into medicine is to serve. I want to look back at this pandemic and know I gave it everything I could,” said Raab, who personally volunteers with Community Healthcare System-Munster to report COVID-19 case data to the state in addition to serving as point for student efforts. “I go home knowing people were able to get face masks or that community members were able to get COVID testing because my classmates stepped up, and that’s something I’m proud of every day.”
Right: MD students Anna Fenner and Courtney Raab volunteer with the Indiana Department of Health to swab for COVID tests
Like Raab, third-year medical student David Emch has stepped up to mobilize students from the Muncie campus. As community volunteers, about 10 students serve in a non-clinical capacity at the city’s only hospital, IU Health Ball Memorial, which lost its 300 community volunteers when the stay-at-home order was put in place.
“The general sense I get is everyone wants to help out where they can,” said Christina Huang, MSC vice president of service. “Medical students aren’t physicians so we’re not equipped to take care of patients on our own yet, but we do feel this responsibility to take care of people in our community. That’s why we went into medicine.”
Huang has been compiling a list of student-led initiatives in an effort to match volunteers with ways to serve. There are more than a dozen different projects, and the list grows daily.
During this unique time, IU School of Medicine students are proving the motto: One school, nine campuses strong:
Other students in South Bend are volunteering for an isolation and quarantine center, making daily phone calls to check on symptoms of guests exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms. Associate Dean and South Bend campus Director Mark Fox, MD, PhD, MPH, serves as deputy health officer for St. Joseph County and is highly supportive of students who have joined community efforts there.
In Gary, students are working with the Lake County Health Department to conduct drive-thru COVID-19 testing and help with contact tracing for those who test positive. They each call several patients weekly, asking a series of questions about contacts who may have been exposed to the virus and giving advice on how to quarantine.
In Fort Wayne, students are volunteering with Aging and In-Home Services of Northeast Indiana to conduct daily check-ins with elderly clients by phone, screening them for symptoms of COVID-19.
In Muncie, several students are volunteering with Ball Memorial Hospital to work at a scrub station where clinicians can get sanitized scrubs for their shifts. They’re also initializing efforts to deliver meals for team members and volunteer as liaisons between patients’ family members and busy hospital clinicians. In the community, Emch has organized a volunteer project with Delaware County Fútbol Club to clean up a soccer field--something that can be done outdoors while social distancing.
In Indianapolis--home base for IU School of Medicine--there are numerous efforts to provide meals, PPE and morale boosters to frontline workers and to serve the community through food drives and other initiatives.
Ashton Moody and Bilal Jawed volunteer at a scrub station at Ball Memorial Hospital
“Our students are no strangers to community engagement--students are engaged in service learning efforts throughout the year,” said Niki Messmore, program director for community and civic engagement.
“Now, in the face of a generation-defining moment, they have leapt at the opportunity to do so much more. We are impressed with how IU School of Medicine students have taken it upon themselves to organize and implement COVID-19 volunteer projects at our campuses around the state. They are creative, generous, talented and dedicated to serving others.”
The views expressed in this content represent the perspective and opinions of the author and may or may not represent the position of Indiana University School of Medicine.
Laura is a senior writer with the Office of Strategic Communications. A native Hoosier, she has 25 years of experience in communications, having worked with newspapers and other media organizations in Indiana and Florida, along with small businesses, community groups and non-profit organizations. Before joining IU School of Medicine in January 2020, she was editor-in-chief of a lifestyle magazine serving the community of Estero, Florida.