‘U’ Medical students step up to help hospitals fight COVID-19

Sunday, April 19, 2020 - 8:02pm

.

Design by Michelle Fan

Third-year Medical student Paris Rollins was in the middle of clinical rotations at Henry Ford Hospital, working 9-hour shifts in the Emergency Medicine Department, when she found out that the University of Michigan’s Medical School would be pulling all students out of rotations.

“I felt this dread in the pit of my stomach,” Rollins said. “(The announcement) felt unprecedented in what could happen next.”

Two days after the announcement, Rollins’ classmates were already looking for ways to get involved with the response to fight COVID-19. She received an email detailing that the Detroit Health Department would be rolling out massive numbers of tests through a drive-thru at the State Fairgrounds and would need volunteers to call patients with their test results. 

“Medical students don’t like to be idle for very long,” Rollins joked. “It seemed like an awesome opportunity to speak with people when they are getting this big relief, or potentially stressful news and I thought that is how I want to be able to help people.”

Though Rollins had learned how to deliver bad news to patients in medical school, giving people their results was a difficult task.

“The first few might be positive, then the next ones are negative,” Rollins said. “It’s really hard to switch emotions … these calls only last five minutes, so to connect with them in that time was definitely a challenge.”

Third-year Medical student Majd Mokbel also volunteers at the Detroit Health Department and makes some of the 800 outgoing calls informing people of their test results every day.

“People have a varied range of emotions when they’re told their results — excited, happy, relieved with the negative results and acceptance and being scared with the positive,” he said. “But pretty surprisingly, many people we have talked to have been brave about their results.”

Second-year Medical student Rebecca Goldberg, who was rotating around Michigan Medicine, has also found a way to support the hospital’s response to COVID-19 remotely. Goldberg is a lead on the patient outreach initiative, which involves calling Ypsilanti Health Center patients who are not currently enrolled in the online health portal and helping them navigate the system to access video visits online.

“For me, it was kind of a no-brainer (to help out),” Goldberg said. “To be able to help patients in trying times like these, that’s how I’d rather spend my time any day.”

Third-year Medical student Tom Hester was rotating with Dr. Theodore Iwashyna in the Veterans’ Affairs Center when Iwashyna realized that a shortage of staff to care for patients would become a large issue. This led to the conception of the role of a Respiratory Therapist Extender. 

Hester and a team of twenty-five other classmates have been trained to provide basic respiratory care like patient assessments, oxygen rounds and restocking equipment so that the therapists can focus their efforts on patients on ventilators.

“Our job is to alleviate the workload of the respiratory therapists, so they can focus on treating the critically ill,” Hester said. 

The plan moving forward is to share the concept with other institutions in an effort to crowdsource continued improvements to the program. 

Quintin Solano, a member of student council and second-year Medical student, had been working the Pediatrics rotation at Michigan Medicine from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. and had seen the respiratory ICU being set up in the weeks leading up to the pandemic. After a discussion with the Student Council President Ali Hammoud, he realized the shortage of personal protective equipment had to be addressed.

“I like the idea of being able to help our colleagues who are going to be on the frontline, and help give out the equipment that they need,” Solano said.

After seeing Michigan Medicine’s social media push for personal protective equipment donations, Solano and a number of his fellow classmates began volunteering to help count, inventory and repackage the donations in a way that would allow the hospital to actually use the supplies.

“Donations were just flooding in from hospital laboratories, University laboratories, local businesses, hair salons, nail salons,” Solano said. “(As medical students) our hope is, you know, to be in the clinical environment, but if we can't, then we’re gonna do everything we can outside of it to help everybody (in) there.”

In addition to his presidency of the Student Council, Hammoud is also co-director of the M-Response Corps, a medical student-led initiative to fight the COVID-19 crisis. From providing remote prenatal care to delivering groceries, students have found a multitude of ways to contribute. Hammoud said he sees this time as an opportunity to get as many students involved without coercion.

“We put together a survey that we sent out to all students before students were sent out. We just got so many students who are like, please don't make us leave (to go home). We want to serve. We want to help,” Hammoud said.

Hester said he was inspired to see how his fellow classmates mobilized to support the health care system during this state of emergency.

“There are so many ways to help with the pandemic response that doesn’t involve patient care, (and) those ways are just as important,” Hester said. 

Daily Staff Reporter Varsha Vedapudi can be reached at varshakv@umich.edu

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Rebecca Goldberg worked at Henry Ford Hospital and Tom Hester had four classmates on his team.