Taylor Klein, NRAEMT, MSc, OMS-III
On Sunday, March 15th, 2020, I was on my OB-GYN rotation and was present for three deliveries. The residents and attendings were pimping me on various OB emergency facts as I had just come off of my ED elective and had shared with them my plans to apply to EM. By Wednesday, March 18th, I was stationed in a cubicle located in the basement below the ED and answering triage calls for the COVID-19 Help Line. Medical students across the country had been pulled from their rotations, most just a few blocks shy of the completion of the year. The specifics of why seem to differ depending on who is asked. Some say that the novel coronavirus sickening hundreds of thousands across the world has made the clinical training environment too hazardous for students. Some say that it is due to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) that is expected to last for the duration of the pandemic. Personally, I favor the latter, but, regardless of the reason, the decision was nearly universal. Medical students across the country and across the world have stepped up. Some, like me, answer phone calls from patients. Grocery runs are being coordinated for the elderly and immunocompromised who can’t risk leaving the safe environments inside their homes. Childcare and pet-sitting is being offered to frontline health workers so that they can continue going to work amid widespread school closures. I’m sure that others have stepped up in ways that I haven’t even heard about.
This isn’t the first crisis medical students have stepped up to face. During the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic, third and fourth years in the United States acted as interns or nurses for ailing patients (1). In 1952, a polio epidemic in Denmark led to 1400 student volunteers manually ventilating patients in respiratory failure (2). After 9/11, NYU students worked as morgue volunteers (3), as “runners” to carry information between triage stations (4), and with psychiatrists to provide emergency mental care (5). In 2009, Queensland medical students were on an elective rotation in Samoa during the tsunami. They had severely limited equipment, but admirably helped care for victims alongside local medical personnel and Red Cross responders (6). After the 2010 Haitian earthquake, the International Medical Corps recruited and trained a team of medical students to provide emergency aid (7). In the same year, after the Chilean earthquake, medical students worked with physicians and public health workers to administer vaccines and provide basic wound care (8).
Today, we are faced with a novel virus and not enough tests to identify the infected, not enough PPE to protect our health care workers, not enough ventilators for those in respiratory failure and not enough health care personnel to backfill for those who will inevitably get sick. We may not yet carry licenses or titles before our names, but from our first day of medical school, we have held to the ideal of helping people. We may not be able to see patients, but don’t forget us. We are here; and we want to help. Let us know how we can.
- Starr I. Influenza in 1918: recollections of the epidemic in Philadelphia. Ann Int Med 1976;85:516-8.
- Trubohovich R. In the beginning. The 1952-1953 Danish epidemic of poliomyelitis and Bjørn Ibsen. Crit Care Resusc 2003;5:227-30.
- Lipkin M Jr. On being a doctor in medical ground zero: an early experience of the World Trade Center disaster. Ann Int Med 2002;136:704-7.
- Cushman J G, Pachter HL, Beaton HL. Two New York City hospitals’ surgical response to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York City. J Trauma 2003;1: 147-54; discussion 154-5.
- Katz C L, Gluck N, Maurizio A, DeLisi LE. The medical student experience with disasters and disaster response. CNS Spectr 2002;8: 604-610.
- Ferguson J, Carne L, Fraser K. Samoan tsunami victims saved by Queensland medical students. Sunday Mail (Qld) 4 Oct 2009. www.couriermail.com.au/news/sunday-mail/samoan-tsunami-victims-saved-by-queensland-medical-students/story-e6frep2f-1225782475870.
- International Medical Corps: Our approach in Haiti. www.imcworldwide.org/Page.aspx?pid=1102.
- Reyes H. Students’ response to disaster: a lesson for health care professional schools. Ann Intern Med 2010;10: 658-660.