Student volunteers assist with public questions and concerns about COVID-19 pandemic
the novel coronavirus is disrupting every aspect of normalcy, the pandemic is
also creating opportunities—for learning and community service, as faculty and
students at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have discovered
by stepping up to fill an urgent need at local community health centers.
implemented within 48 hours, close to 100 first- to fourth-year medical
students and physician-assistant students have been deployed as volunteers to
help manage the crush of inquiries to call centers from a worried and confused
answering and navigating calls at the Neighborhood Family Practice Community
Health Centers location on Ridge Road in Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Board
of Health location in Parma and at the University Hospitals (UH) administrative
offices on Warrensville Center Road in Shaker Heights.
we’re still deploying,” said Amy
Wilson-Delfosse, professor of pharmacology and associate dean for curriculum at
the School of Medicine, who is directing the effort with Anastasia
Rowland-Seymour, director of Foundations of Clinical Medicine at the
School of Medicine and director of Preventive Medicine and Community Health
Engagement for the physician assistant program, and Lisa Navracruz, an
assistant professor at the school’s Center for Community Health Integration.
you’re hearing,” Wilson-Delfosse said, “is a real synergy of the students
receiving medical training by having the opportunity to talk with these
patients who call in, and also the community benefiting from the enormous
talent that’s held within our student body as our students work to respond to
the immediate and significant need.”
Among the many faculty and students
involved, Debra Leizman, associate professor of medicine at the School of
Medicine and director of the internal medicine clerkship at UH, and Heidi
Gullett, an associate professor managing the effort at the county Board of Health
location, have been overseeing the effort.
Navracruz said students are gaining clinical training and
are able to work on their patient communication skills while simultaneously
responding to the community’s critical need. That opportunity presented itself
as the pandemic interfered with traditional approaches to student clinical
were looking for a way to have our students still
help the clinical sites, to still get the education of talking with patients,
of hearing their stories, helping answer their questions to address their
fears,” Navracruz said. “And so we designed this program in which our students
are in administrative locations answering the phone lines and helping with the
volume of calls that are coming in, some of which are general medical questions
and some of which are COVID-19 specific questions. Our students are in a
perfect position to do this.”
Fourth-year medical student Lucy
Li, who is helping administer call center inquiries at UH, said the experience
is allowing students to improve their clinical-decision skills in consultation
with managers to make sure the public’s questions and concerns are sufficiently
and properly addressed.
“What we’re really learning,” Li said, “is how to respond to
patients appropriately and how the decision process works.”
Third-year medical student Andrea Szabo, assisting at the
Cuyahoga County Board of Health location, said she was tasked with reaching out
to people who may have come in contact with patients who have tested positive
for the virus, providing direction and advice on next steps.
“I’ve learned that we can’t always be prepared for everything,
but we can pull from some of the tools and knowledge that we have,” Szabo said.
Rowland-Seymour said it was gratifying to see how quickly
this effort ramped up and was overwhelmed by how passionate the students are to
serve the community.
“They want to help; they want to be there,” she said. “They want to be using all their gifts and they want to be a part of the response.”