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How hundreds of medical students are staying useful during COVID-19

Ali Hammoud, University of Michigan Medical School

When hospital rotations were placed on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of Michigan’s third- and fourth-year medical students wondered how they could stay useful. 

Within a few days, a handful of student-led volunteer groups popped up around the state, assisting medical workers and community members with tasks like mask-collection, childcare and food delivery.

Joshika Money is a third-year student at the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine. Though pulled from her surgery rotation at Beaumont Royal Oak on March 17th, her volunteering efforts, combined with online classes, have kept her busy.

“This is our lives right now, a little bit,” she says. 

Like Money, other medical students are chipping in to support a health system bracing for a surge of COVID-19 patients. And with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s call for volunteers on March 28th, they should soon be joined by others.

Here’s a school-by-school look at what medical students are doing to help.

University of Michigan: Telehealth for expecting mothers 

Ali Hammoud, a third-year medical student at the University of Michigan, started organizing his classmates when the university pulled students from the hospital wards, also on March 17th.

250 volunteers have signed up to join what organizers are calling the M-Response Corps. Some are working day shifts at the university’s north campus donation center on Plymouth Rd. for face masks, gloves and other personal protective equipment. Others are joining hospital call centers to assist dispatchers with assigning patients. 

For the prenatal care department at UM, social-distancing measures have required changes to expectant mothers’ appointment schedule. Led by third-year student Susan Carlson, and under the direction of Michigan Medicine’s Dr. Alex Friedman Peahl, about 50 volunteers are helping those patients adjust to a schedule that, when possible, involves fewer in-person visits.



Credit Michigan Medicine department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
An infographic detailing the new appointment schedule for low-risk prenatal patients at Michigan Medicine.

These students have been trained to inform the low-risk patients, over the phone, about the new schedule and teach them how to monitor vitals like blood pressure and the baby’s heartbeat. If a patient has a non-emergency concern, she’ll call a number and a student will answer her question. 

“We’re sharing this nuanced information with our patients and trying to help them process it,” says Peahl.

All patient care, both in-person and virtual, still comes from physicians. The student volunteers are now preparing to host online support groups for the expectant mothers.


“It’s nice to be able to uplift them during this time,” says Carlson. 

More information about the program can be found here.

Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine: Food drops and translation 

Money and about 60 other med-student volunteers are channeling their efforts through MyCovidResponse.org, a website started by a network of community organizers in Oakland County. On the website, community members can advertise their need for services like food-delivery. For those without internet access, the volunteers are collecting information at food drives. 

These volunteers also update the website with PSAs about COVID-19, and translate that information, so far, into Spanish, Portuguese, French, Chinese, Korean, Punjabi, Hindi and Polish, says Money. 

Mustafa Polat is another third-year OUWB student. He’s one of 10 volunteers soliciting donations from businesses likely to have stockpiles of masks and other equipment in dwindling supply (like tattoo parlors and dental offices) and transporting them to Beaumont Health’s service center in Southfield. 

“We have people in the group who are like, I have a tankful of gas, just let me know where and when I need to be there and I’ll be ready,” he says. 

Wayne State University: Childcare

Since last Thursday, Wayne State University medical students Nikki Sidhu and Diana Alaouie have been circulating a Google form through hospitals in Detroit, the Michigan city hardest hit by COVID-19. 

When students were pulled from their rotations on March 17th, “not a single [physician] mentioned that they were not willing to be on the frontlines,” says Sidhu. “What they were actually worried about was being able to take care of their homes.”

Physicians who need help with childcare or grocery shopping can fill out the form, and one of 100 student volunteers will do the job. Students interested in volunteering can fill out a separate form

“We’re just really happy to help,” says Sidhu. 

Michigan State University: Gathering protective equipment 

Neej Patel, a first-year medical student at MSU’s Grand Rapids campus, is gathering personal protective equipment through Medical Supply Drive, a student-led network with volunteers across the U.S.


Patel has gathered about 20 other students. In Grand Rapids, they’ve collected and routed a few thousand masks, glove-boxes, gowns and such to Spectrum Health hospitals and St. Mary Mercy. (Students can join Patel by signing up here; those who want to make donations can indicate so here.)

So far, each medical school’s improvised volunteer corps has worked independently, but the schools are looking for ways to collaborate, especially when it comes to collecting protective equipment. 

“Michigan is a large state, and there are different regions with different needs,” says Hammoud, the volunteer leader at UM. He says it's too early to tell how they might coordinate, but right now "we're exchanging ideas."

Will Callan, a reporter for Michigan Radio, hails from the Bay Area, where he lived in Oakland and San Francisco and reported for local newspapers and magazines. He enjoys a long swim in chilly water (preferably followed by a sauna) and getting to know new cities. That's one reason he's excited to be in Ann Arbor, which he can already tell has just the right combo of urban grit and natural beauty to make him feel at home.