Med students offer doctors help with childcare, groceries during pandemic

The national movement, which began at Western University, is being led by students and is not affiliated with any of the faculties of medicine

Written on March 17, 2020

By Kylie Taggart

Students from all 15 Canadian medical schools are volunteering to help healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Medical student groups are coordinating efforts to support healthcare workers through offers of free childcare, grocery shopping, office work or pet care.

Most Canadian medical schools have cancelled in-person classes and excused students from clinical duties.

“Students are very excited for the opportunity to get involved and support others,” said Adel Arezki, vice-president of communications and executive vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students. “We all pursued medicine to help others, especially in challenging times of need. While our stage of training results in a situation where students have temporarily been removed from clinical duties to help re-assess the learning environment, students are getting on board to help out as quickly as we can.”

“We are excited to hear that this is being well-received and that we are filling a social gap,” said Arezki, a third-year medical student at McGill University.

The initiative began with students from Western University in London, Ont. Yashoda Valliere, a fourth-year medical student, posted the offer of free childcare and errands on Twitter. Valliere said the idea came from a desire by her and her classmates to support their healthcare colleagues while their own classes and clinical rotations are suspended.

We all pursued medicine to help others, especially in challenging times of need.

“We feel that we have been trained to be leaders in our communities and, although we are not yet physicians, we have an opportunity to support our colleagues,” Valliere is quoted as saying in a press release by Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western. “We are excited to begin this initiative, and we applaud our fellow medical students across the country who are now organizing in their own communities.”

The movement is led by students, and not affiliated with any of the faculties of medicine. The Canadian Federation of Medical Students is helping student groups share best practices, Arezki said.

At Queen’s University, the Queen’s Medicine Aesculapian Society is coordinating the volunteers. Shikha Patel, a second-year medical student, said that as of March 17, 24 student volunteers had signed up and 28 healthcare workers had responded. Half the healthcare workers were doctors. Nurses, pharmacists and administration staff have also asked for help.

Pre-clerkship students in first and second year are currently on March break, and so Patel said that she believed there will be more volunteers when students return. The group plans to reach out to students from other healthcare faculties, such as nursing, occupational therapy and physiotherapy.

The feedback so far has been positive. “We’ve received a lot of messages of gratitude,” she said.

Doctors who need help are asked to fill out a form outlining their needs and contact information. The list of help offered differs by student group.

The medical students have set some parameters to promote social distancing and reduce the spread of COVID-19. This includes only having one medical student assigned to a family to minimize the range of contacts. Also, those who visit seniors do not volunteer in other settings.

“While we want to provide support, we’re also balancing the need to help keep the public safe,” Patel said. For example, she cannot volunteer in-person as she is self-isolating after a possible contact with someone with COVID-19.

Medical students are helping in other ways, such as working on contact tracing and taking public health phone calls. One group of medical students has created a daily newsletter summarizing scientific literature about COVID-19 for healthcare professionals.  The editor-in-chief is Ariane Litalien, a fourth-year medical student at McGill University. Newsletter sign up is done through a Google form.

Below are some of the forms to volunteer or request help:

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