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From top, left to right: USask medical students Colten Molnar, Tayyaba Bhatti, Sarah White, Sehjal Bhargava, Alexa McEwen and Jessica Froehlich are seen here organizing volunteer efforts through remote communication.(Submitted photo)

USask medical students step up to support healthcare professionals

As COVID-19 arrived in Canada, medical students found themselves out of the classroom, watching their teachers and mentors prepare for the impending pandemic.

Unable to be on the frontline, University of Saskatchewan (USask) medical students wanted to help.

“I simply wanted to do what I could to help,” said second-year Regina student Jessica Froehlich. “I think that is how all of us feel. As medical students, we have academic knowledge of what is going on and we see our teachers and mentors bracing themselves for what is to come, but there is little we can do to help ‘on the ground.’”

On March 17, the Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan (SMSS) released a statement on social media informing healthcare professionals that undergraduate medical students were prepared to volunteer their time. It included a link to a form that matches undergraduate medical students with healthcare professionals and their families.

Inspired by efforts of fellow students at other medical schools in Canada, USask medical students started organizing their own initiative to support healthcare professionals in Saskatchewan.

“While organizing this initiative, our goal was to be as useful as possible for healthcare providers, but also to prioritize safety of our volunteers and those they interact with,” said second-year Saskatoon student and SMSS president Tayyaba Bhatti.

The students volunteering their time would be matched up on a one-to-one basis, and assist with everyday tasks, including picking up groceries, prescriptions and help with childcare. Student volunteers will still be required to practice social distancing hand hygiene measure, and self-assess their own health.  

“I am always blown away by the capacity of medical students to come together to work towards a unified goal,” second-year Regina student Sehjal Bhargava said. “The collaboration, communication, and thought that has been poured into this initiative by medical students across the country has been truly amazing, and all done via remote communication.

“For this to be met with such strong support by leaders in the healthcare community and in Saskatchewan, truly shows that this work matters,” she added.

The students consulted with College of Medicine leadership, SMSS, public health officials, and other medical students across the country to ensure that students are well supported, and to maintain ethical and professional standards, Froehlich said.

The volunteers are currently working on matching students with health professionals in the coming days. About 50 medical students have signed up to help so far. The volunteers are also looking at the possibility of involving students from other professional health colleges.

“I can without a doubt say that this has been the craziest week of my medical education to date,” said first-year student Colten Molnar. “Helping to coordinate this initiative, along with student leaders from nearly every other Canadian medical school, has given me a bit of an escape from all of the information at the surface, and let me see humbling examples of humanity in the profession.”  

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