Current Medical Student Involvement

Given the enormous toll that COVID-19 has taken on medical professionals working in hospitals, there has been a tremendous push by medical students to support health care workers in both clinical and non-clinical capacities. Students from medical schools across the country have been organizing themselves to aid in roles ranging from collecting excess PPE from the general public to staffing phone hotlines for virtual triage. Harvard Medical School students have coordinated a number of initiatives to aid medical staff. Here, we will discuss examples of roles currently being filled by medical student volunteers.

Clinical support activities

In terms of clinical support, HMS teaching hospitals have recently begun approving opportunities for which medical students may volunteer. These have included:

  • training health care workers on proper PPE use and re-use

  • creating and editing videos on proper PPE usage

  • distributing appropriate PPE on hospital floors

  • conducting telephone calls with patients during remote appointments

  • screening patients who arrive at the hospital for necessary procedures

  • workforce mapping (i.e. identifying what clinical spots need to be filled in various departments and by which personnel).

It should be noted that the guidelines regarding the extent of medical student involvement in clinical care are rapidly evolving, especially given the shortage of PPE. The most recent set of guidelines issued by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) has stated that while it is not recommended for medical students to be involved in any direct patient care activities in order to conserve PPE, if there is a critical healthcare workforce need locally, any medical student involvement at teaching hospitals must be voluntary and not compensated. Thus, the roles that are listed above may change as the safety guidelines regarding medical student involvement evolve and as the shortage of available PPE for health care workers increases. Students may be required to shift to remote or low-risk roles (such as scribing or calling consults) in order to minimize usage of PPE by students.

Non-clinical involvement

In addition to clinical roles, there is a wide range of efforts targeted towards supporting health care workers in other capacities. For example, one initiative at HMS has focused on collecting excess PPE donations from the general public for donation to hospitals. This group, the PPE Shortage Initiative, has used outreach (contacting businesses, organizations, friends, and family for donation) and advocacy (helping with ongoing legislation and petitions) to obtain much-needed PPE for health care workers. MD/PhD students, especially those with engineering backgrounds, are organizing projects to design new mechanical ventilators and 3D-printed masks. Other efforts include:

  • volunteering to assist health care workers with child care

  • picking up and delivering groceries and prescriptions

  • helping with preparing meals

Regardless of the level of medical training, many students may be able to help with blood donation. Blood centers across the country are experiencing a significant drop in donations amid COVID-19 fears, and the FDA is urgently asking healthy adults to consider donating. This is a helpful way to add tangible resources to our health system.

Thought question:

  • What are some clinical and non-clinical roles that you envision medical students performing to aid the response to the COVID-19 pandemic?