See coverage of Feinberg medical students’ COVID-19 volunteer efforts at Northwestern Now.
In response to the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, first-year medical student Tazim Merchant found herself deeply motivated to help the Chicagoland community and rally together other students at Feinberg who wanted to do the same.
Merchant, along with first-year medical students Emma Office and Tricia Rae Pendergrast, organized a school-wide volunteer effort, “Students Supporting the Community During COVID-19”, which currently has more than 140 student volunteers from Feinberg serving healthcare workers, older community members at higher risk for COVID-19 and working parents during the COVID-19 pandemic. The volunteers include medical students, graduate students, genetic counseling students, physician’s assistant students and students in the interdepartmental neuroscience program.
The effort is split into six self-sufficient teams: general volunteer work (grocery delivery, calling the elderly, prescription delivery, virtual tutoring for students and collecting and distributing medical supplies to healthcare workers and hospitals), virtual education for the community (educating community members about COVID-19 prevention, symptoms and treatment), public relations, volunteer management, organizing blood drives and, most recently, the Art of Medicine Chicago (proceeds from art created by Feinberg students allocated to support Chicago artists and buy personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals in Chicago). Volunteers who do go out into the community must meet strict health and safety guidelines.
Additionally, Merchant recently joined the leadership team of GetMePPE Chicago, an effort led by medical students from several medical schools around Chicago, which has already distributed more than 40,000 donated N95 protective masks and other protective personal equipment donations to healthcare workers around the city.
According to Merchant, the response to the effort at Feinberg, which was established just a few weeks ago, has been overwhelmingly positive and inspiring.
“To all the volunteers, I just want to say that every single one of you is making a difference and this movement is possible because every single person in this effort has the passion, the motivation and has been willing to put in time to support the healthcare community and the larger community,” Merchant said. “You may not necessarily see the direct impact you’re making on these individuals, but regardless of what position you’re in, you are making a difference. None of what we are doing would be possible without your support and your efforts, so please keep going, please reshare all of our social media and keep it up.”
Read a Q&A with Merchant below.
How was “Students Supporting the Community During COVID-19” established?
The week before our final exams, I got an email from Josh Faber, a second-year student saying there was a COVID-19 volunteer effort going on in New York City and that we should get the club Second Opinions to do the same at Feinberg. I thought this was a really interesting initiative, but I also I thought “why should we just limit it to one club?” So, I posted the idea in a group message with my classmates and got responses from people who were interested in setting something up. Simultaneously, Emma or Tricia had reached out to some healthcare workers beforehand offering their help with childcare. So, since we were all thinking in similar ways at the same time, Emma or Tricia ended up creating a group message with the three of us in it and that’s where we started collaborating to create ways people could sign up to volunteer.
In terms of inspiration, we were partially inspired by the efforts at Midwestern University, where they have been doing something similar. For me personally, I’m in an Ismaili Muslim, and service is one of my faith’s values. Even if you’re not allowed on the front lines necessarily, anybody can make a difference. That ethic of service, that’s part of my religion, is something that’s universal in medical school and I think this effort is very emblematic of that.
What safety and health guidelines do students have to meet before they volunteer?
When our volunteers sign up, we ask them to affirm that they have not experienced COVID-19 symptoms in the past 14 days, that they have not traveled out-of-country in the last 14 days, that they have not come in contact with a sick person in the past 14 days, and that they have been practicing social distancing. Otherwise, they can indicate they only signed up for remote help. Secondly, we have a safety protocol, so that if somebody is going out for grocery or prescription delivery, these volunteers have a safe way for them to pick up items or supplies and deliver them to community members.
One big need right now is blood drives and PPE collection and distribution. Either individuals have contacts, have PPE themselves, or are willing to call up companies to ask for PPE donations. That’s where we really need help right now.
Why did you choose to attend Feinberg?
I was actually part of the Honors Program in Medicine Education (HPME) here, so I ended up accepting to go to Feinberg when I was a high school student. As part of that program, I spent three years in undergrad and will spend my four years at the medical school. Besides Feinberg being a top medical school, I was really attracted to Feinberg’s curriculum.
I was originally interested in the bioethics MD/MA program, but I ended up not pursuing that. But I like that there are dual degree programs offered and I might end up pursuing an MBA in the future. Even though that’s not exactly within the four-year timeline, I appreciate the fact that the HPME program and Feinberg at large allow you to explore other interests and be able to gain other skills so that you can have a career as a physician and leader in medicine and education. As a student now, I appreciate that Feinberg incorporates humanities into the curriculum, as well as a lot of clinical hands-on experiences.
I think I’ve grown a lot as a result of the curriculum and I’ve also learned that the environment here is incredibly supportive. Maybe I didn’t know that as a high school student, but I’m grateful for that now.
How has this pandemic impacted you as a medical student? What have you learned?
I think it’s helped me remember just how important we are as healthcare workers. In this particular crisis, how important it is to be that support for the rest of the community and the degree of responsibility that we’re taking on as medical students that we’ll take on as physicians in the future. It’s exciting, it’s a privilege, it’s a little scary in certain ways, but overall, I think it’s incredible what our healthcare workers are doing. I’m excited to be part of a profession that is so critical to the progression of society and helping the public.
To request volunteer help, complete and submit a Chicago COVID-19 support form. Follow along with the volunteers on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag, #GetMePPEchi. The national GetMePPE website can be found here.