As a surge in COVID-19 cases consume the energies of healthcare workers at Einstein and Montefiore, dozens of Einstein medical and Ph.D. students are stepping up to help out during the crisis through a volunteer effort dubbed “Einstein Cares for the Front.”
Connected through an online network organized in a matter of days, they are caring for children, walking dogs, shopping for groceries and medicine, and helping youngsters with their homework so that about 25 Einstein and Montefiore interns, residents, and fellows can go to work every day.
The entire Montefiore-Einstein Graduate Medical Education Community is overwhelmed by the generosity of our Einstein students. They are a bright light in this darkness. We couldn’t be more grateful or impressed by them in this unprecedented time of need.
Catherine Skae, M.D., associate dean for graduate medical education at Einstein and Montefiore
“Service is one of the core values of Einstein, and we are very proud of our students,” said Allison Ludwig, M.D., associate dean for student affairs. Joshua Nosanchuk, M.D., senior associate dean for medical education, added, “In this extraordinary time, our students are showing their dedication, resilience, and courage though volunteerism. Their efforts, big and small, are supporting our healthcare workforce."
A Call To Service
As the medical community’s needs during the pandemic became apparent, many medical students started emailing Einstein’s Office of Student Affairs to find out how they could pitch in and help. Class-based instruction was suspended in mid-March and curriculum began to be delivered virtually, and “the students wanted to get things going,” said Jessica Marie Lucas, director of student activities in the office of student affairs.
Ms. Lucas worked with a group of four student coordinators to gauge house staff interest and then link student volunteers to those who needed help. Some students could help remotely from their homes and others from the Bronx. “In one day we got 56 volunteers,” Ms. Lucas said, adding that the number has now risen to 85, consisting of medical as well as Ph.D. students, most of whom live in campus housing.
First-year medical student Julia Holber organized student volunteer shifts from her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with a team of three med students based in the Bronx: second-year Tom Boucher, third-year Kaitlin Dewilde, and first-year Kathryn Segal.
Help For Parents
“Overwhelmingly, people are pretty desperate for actual in-person child care,” Ms. Holber said, explaining that for many residents and interns, regular child care options are no longer available. Some child care workers say they are afraid to leave their homes, others have to watch their own children who are home from school, and still others are grandparents who are at higher risk if they contract COVID-19. “People are coming to us a backup,” Ms. Holber said.
Mr. Boucher said one father of a toddler called Einstein students a “godsend. He told me it takes out some of the worry over who is watching his child. For one, we're all in the same Einstein community, and he’s glad [the sitter] is somebody he can trust.”
Ms. Segal noted that all child care volunteers, in addition to being vetted by virtue of being Einstein students, are being asked to provide two contacts who can vouch for their experience with children to make parents more comfortable. If a student has recently done any clinical work, he or she must wait two weeks before volunteering in person to minimize risk of COVID-19 exposure.
Because students still have online class obligations, some might split their days, as Mr. Boucher did with a fellow student, each taking five hours of a nine-hour shift with one hour of overlap. The time might be spent making meals and snacks, reading books, supervising tricycle riding, or even having a tea party. Other times students are needed to simply sleep overnight to help parents who must work midnight hospital shifts.
“The entire Montefiore-Einstein Graduate Medical Education Community is overwhelmed by the generosity of our Einstein students,” said Catherine Skae, M.D., associate dean for graduate medical education at Einstein and Montefiore. “They are a bright light in this darkness. We couldn’t be more grateful or impressed by them in this unprecedented time of need.”
The experience has proved to be a boon for the volunteers as well. “When I was babysitting it was the first time in many months that I wasn’t thinking about the Step Exam and the 30,000 flashcards that I have on my phone,” Mr. Boucher said. “It felt good to be able to do something for these physicians who at this point are putting their health on the line.”
Ms. Holber said some of the volunteers who are walking dogs told her they thought it would help “bring them some joy during this pretty difficult time. And health care workers are obviously thankful for people to just run over and walk their dog once a day, or spend a couple of hours playing with their pets, given their longer shifts.”
Lessons From Afar
Because elementary schools are closed and online lessons have begun, Einstein and Montefiore parents also need science and math homework helpers. Ms. Holber said many students have volunteered for this job because it can be done from anywhere.
“It's hard to be away from New York and watch the news and read articles about what's going on,” she said from her home in Pittsburgh. “And you just feel like you need to do something despite being miles and miles away.”
Mr. Boucher added, “We go over these types of scenarios in our classes. We talk about these things in bioethics. We just saw an opportunity to step up, so we did.” Ms. Segal agreed. “We want to become doctors because at the end of the day, we love to help people, and this gives us an opportunity to do that.”
Posted on: Wednesday, April 01, 2020