No Grand Rounds For CWRU Medical Students, But Still Helping Patients

CWRU COVID Volunteers are organizing efforts during a video meeting
CWRU COVID Volunteers are organizing efforts during a video meeting [CWRU COVID Volunteers]

When COVID-19 disrupted what should have been usual clinical time for third-year Case Western Reserve medical students – rounds, research in the lab, getting deep into a routine – they sprang into action, in spite of being unable to work within the hospital walls.

Independently, many of them began to volunteer: working on the COVID hotline, working with the Northeast Ohio homeless population, offering child care for doctors, even making masks. The siloed volunteer efforts had overlapping goals and interests, realized Shree Sundaresh and others, and they needed to get organized. CWRU COVID Volunteers, was born, offering help in ways that are safe and needed (and #coronakind!)

We just started realizing early on that it was a little intimidating to know how to help. And that it was almost more harmful to help in the wrong ways, especially if you're sending students out in mass or in areas that aren't actually in need of physical bodies to be there,” she said. “So just making sure that we had a platform where we could, one, communicate safe ways for students to help out and, two, make sure that we're getting the opportunities that people are being sent out to.”

The team created a website to ensure all CWRU students knew how they can help if they want to. The site lead to even more offers to assist with volunteer efforts – 150 students signed up to help with grocery shopping, child care, dog walking, and other tasks that caregivers and medical professionals needed. Students also meal prepped for high-risk patients who can’t leave their homes. 

The needs have been continually changing as the pandemic evolves, Sundaresh said.

Led by Andrea Szabo, some medical students are volunteering at the Cuyahoga Board of Health, calling people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 to ensure they know the appropriate protocols and have a plan for their quarantine.

CWRU medical student Abby Szabo assisting with COVID-19 patient calls at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health [Cuyahoga County Board of Health]

At first, when there were only a few cases a day, Szabo was the only person calling. As a research volunteer at the Cuyahoga County Board of Health before the pandemic started, she transitioned roles quickly, but as cases increased she recruited more students and is now up to 12 per day, across two shifts.

Volunteer Abby Gross, focused on personal protection equipment needs, partnering with Med Supply Drive – an effort started by a group of medical students from Georgetown in Washington, D.C. – helped organize students to gather and make masks to be donated.

“Our initiative kind of morphed into everything surrounding PPE,” Gross said. “We had volunteers that are calling and emailing businesses to get donations of pre-made PPE. And then as this evolved, there was news articles coming out about hospitals using sterilization wraps to make masks, out of the University of Florida. So we reached out to the surgeons that we knew through our rotations, and they provided us with the surgical wrap, the sterile wrap to make masks.”image of homemade mask

Masks made by CWRU Med Supply Drive Volunteers. [CWRU Med Supply Drive]

So far, they’ve donated 12,836 pieces pre-made PPE and made 625 mask for donation.

Even more masks are being made for people experiencing homelessnes, in addition to food drives organized by the students, working with the Northeast Coalition for the Homeless and a MetroHealth System doctor who regularly does informal work with Cleveland’s homeless population.

While the conronavirus pandemic response is far-reaching and complex, volunteering is not new for the organizers or the medical students of the CWRU COVID Volunteers.

Before the pandemic, Gross created a program called LACE, or Longitudinal Adolescent Community Engagement, for students of different health professions to work with organizations within the community throughout the school year to build relationships with youth, teaching mindfulness and self-esteem. The medical students worked with youth in the Juvenile Detention Center throughout the year. Gross also organized students to teach reproductive and sexual health classes for students at the Boys and Girls Club and Juvenile Detention Center. And Sundaresh is one of the regular volunteers in Gross’s program.

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