Burnaby doctors get help from UBC med students sidelined by COVID-19

Burnaby doctors working on the front lines of the health-care system during the COVID-19 pandemic are getting help from UBC medical students whose classes and rotations at hospitals have been suspended because of the crisis.

Since Tuesday, the students have been matching doctors across the province with medical student volunteers for everything from grocery shopping to child care to dog sitting, according to third-year student Vivian Tsang, one of six organizers of the initiative.

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“We can’t have patient contact, but we know that our physician colleagues that we were working with just last week are still there,” she said. “They’re still carrying three pagers because we’re not there anymore, so what can we do in this time to best support them? What are the alternative things that we can take on that will help alleviate at least part of their burden in everything that’s going on.”

Tsang said the six organizers decided over the weekend to try to mobilize their fellow medical students the same way medical students have mobilized in Ontario.

The six spent about 14 hours on Monday coming up with a protocol and mobilization toolkit that they hope students in other departments, like nursing, pharmacy, dentistry and midwifery, will also use to mobilize their own student volunteers.

“We know, quite soon, as things progress, we might need more volunteers to be involved,” Tsang said.

By Tuesday afternoon, the medical students had an online survey up for doctors to put in their requests.

Forty signed up on the first day, including two from Burnaby, and volunteer coordinators are matching those requests, and others that have come in since, with students who’ve filled out surveys indicating their availability.

The steering committee has set a maximum of 15 hours per week per student, according to Tsang.

When it comes to child care, the organizers have told doctors the volunteers are not meant to replace regular child-care services, “only to lend a helping hand.”

She said organizers will check in with volunteers weekly to make sure everything is going OK.

Tsang said the steering committee is also working on a liability waiver to protect the student volunteers.

“We certainly are advocating for our students, making sure they’re not taken advantage of,” she said.

While the motivation behind the initiative is essentially altruistic, Tsang said some of the volunteering could also be seen as an extension of the students’ medical education.

“I’m learning a lot, even just from a coordination perspective of how pandemics affect communities,” she said. 

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