School of Medicine Students Develop MUSM COVID-19 Response Team to Organize Volunteer Efforts

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MUSM Volunteers

MACON/SAVANNAH/COLUMBUS – Mercer University School of Medicine (MUSM) third-year M.D. students Marissa D’Souza, Kunal Patel, Payton Prins and Catherine Waldron recently developed the MUSM COVID-19 Student Response Team to organize student efforts to help combat the new coronavirus.

The Association of American Medical Colleges recommended on March 17 that institutions temporarily suspend medical students’ participation in any activities that involve patient contact due to shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) and other concerns.

“Once we found out we couldn’t be in the hospital, everyone wanted to help but didn’t know how to be involved,” said Prins.

“We still felt we had an obligation to the medical community to help,” added D’Souza. “The people on the front lines are our mentors and colleagues. It’s more than just a professional calling; it’s personal.”

Shortly thereafter, many different projects started coming the students’ way. Some were contacted due to previous work with American Red Cross blood drives. Faculty members were asked if students would be willing to volunteer at Department of Public Health coronavirus testing sites. Students proposed ideas to hold PPE donation drives and to provide grocery delivery and childcare for healthcare workers.

“I was really surprised with the number of students who wanted to do something,” Patel said. “We were getting 60 to 70 text messages from students interested in helping out just in the first couple days.”

A GroupMe message thread that began with 10 students quickly grew to more than 80 first- through fourth-year M.D. students across all of three of the medical school’s campuses in Macon, Savannah and Columbus.

D’Souza, Patel, Prins and Waldron were inspired to create a website based on another student-run site they had seen from Duke University School of Medicine.

While all four students are based on the Savannah campus, they are working to develop leads with students in Macon and Columbus to organize efforts in those locations and maintain corresponding sections of the website.

Patel estimates that as many as 50 students have already signed up to volunteer for one of the projects through the site.

These days, the students find themselves going from early morning virtual case studies to volunteer opportunities until noon. Then back to afternoon virtual class sessions, followed by more volunteer work until as late as 6 p.m. in the evening. Any extra time on the evenings or weekends is spent studying.

As the students navigate these challenging times while remaining dedicated to fulfilling the mission of MUSM and their profession, their new temporary arrangement takes “as least as much, if not more, time management skills than we previously had to employ,” said Prins.

“At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. I hope that our efforts can serve as a united front in helping to stop the spread of this virus. Our team is continually growing and adapting to the changing needs of our community,” said Waldron.

The MUSM COVID-19 Student Response Team website is not only for Mercer medical school students. The site is constantly being expanded and includes informational resources, as well as some volunteer opportunities that are open to community members.

If you are interested in volunteering, would like assistance, or have supplies to donate, please contact the team by email at musmcovidresponse@gmail.com or phone at (404) 556-2408.

About Mercer University School of Medicine (Macon, Savannah and Columbus)

Mercer University’s School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Today, more than 60 percent of graduates currently practice in the state of Georgia, and of those, more than 80 percent are practicing in rural or medically underserved areas of Georgia. Mercer medical students benefit from a problem-based medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment fosters the early development of clinical problem-solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of the basic medical sciences in medical practice. The School opened a full four-year campus in Savannah in 2008 at Memorial University Medical Center. In 2012, the School began offering clinical education for third- and fourth-year medical students in Columbus. Following their second year, students participate in core clinical clerkships at the School’s primary teaching hospitals: Medical Center, Navicent Health in Macon; Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah; and Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The School also offers master’s degrees in family therapy, preclinical sciences and biomedical sciences and a Ph.D. in rural health sciences.

MUSM Student Response Team

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Kyle Sears