Second-year medical student and the president of the Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan Tayyaba Bhatti was one of the students who volunteered their time to help with contact tracing.

My View From The Sidelines During COVID-19

The last few weeks have been a crazy whirlwind of news headlines from across the world, an abundance of information, and disruptions in almost every aspect of life.

By Tayyaba Bhatti

When all of this first began, and my classes were cancelled, I found myself glued to my phone trying to keep up with new information in an attempt to reduce the uncertainty for what lies ahead. The more I read, the more I saw healthcare systems around the world crumbling under the weight of this pandemic and frontline healthcare workers continuing their dedication to serving their patients.

As a medical student in early years of training, there was not much I could do to help in the field, but I really felt the need contribute in some way. So, when the opportunity to volunteer with the Public Health Department in Saskatoon arose, I was eager to join. 

Over the past five weeks, the volunteers have been involved in a variety of tasks. We initially started with the Healthline (811) triaging by speaking to people to determine if they needed to get tested and advising them on appropriate social distancing/self-isolation protocols. We also called individuals to notify them of their negative test results. More recently, we have started contact tracing for those who have tested positive. 

Through this process and speaking to people over the phone, it became more apparent to me how much uncertainty is out there and how lonely and isolating it can feel. People are eager to talk and being able to help out in this way makes me feel closer to my community and helps me understand the local context of this pandemic. 

I became involved initially with this volunteer opportunity because I was eager to help my community and support the healthcare system. I never anticipated how valuable this experience would be for me, personally.  It adds perspective to be involved in something bigger and keeps me from getting occupied with details of disruptions in my everyday life. 

Instead of dwelling on my educational opportunities being limited or not being able to see family and friends, I am able to channel my time and energy into a productive activity. As well, joining my peers from the College of Medicine and volunteering together strengthens our sense of community and collaboration. Seeing their willingness to help in these challenging times has been very inspiring. This opportunity for me was also my first exposure to Public Health outside of the classroom and learning by doing while being supported by staff and peers has been wonderful. 

Above all, speaking to people over the phone and hearing their concerns throughout this process has made me feel connected to my community even in the times of physical distancing. 

This experience has been unique and extremely valuable for me in many ways and I am grateful to be a part of it.