Called to Serve: A Medical Student Response to Canceled Classes and Rotations in the Pandemic

By Elizabeth Southworth

“So what’s the plan for the students” asked my attending during morning rounds on Monday March 16th. We were discussing the many changes that had already occurred over the past several days; the rooms in the Surgical ICU that had been sequestered for possible corona virus patients, the restrictions on visitors to the hospital, and the impending decision regarding 3rd and 4th year medical students on clinical rotations. Moments later the email came in – “All M3 and M4 students will immediately stop participating in their clinical clerkships or those electives that involve patient contact”. With those words, my 4th year of medical school came dramatically to a halt.

An email like that can be taken one of two ways. It can give you permission to relax and take a long break before residency, or it gives you permission to leverage your skills during an uncertain time in medicine. I am proud to say that my colleagues at Stritch School of Medicine choose the latter and began working together to fill unmet needs.

I received an email moments after I got home from my now canceled clinical duties. As a former EMT and EMS educator in undergraduate, I have some training in emergency response and was happy to answer the call for student volunteers to assist in updating our institutions corona virus guidelines and resources. In the following hours it became clear that my classmates were called to serve. As healthcare providers we have been educated in an environment that supports service to others; our patients, our community, and our institution. We have been educated in an environment that values our experiences, that recognizes we have something to offer to our patients and each other throughout our time at Stritch, and now in these uncertain times, we were empowered to contribute to the response to this novel virus.

While 3 classmates and I updated hospital policies and materials, others coordinated volunteers to field calls from those in the community inquiring about testing, and were a resource for staff needing assistance with childcare. As I sit at home, socially distancing myself, my classmates are staffing the call center. I am gearing up to work my shifts next week and anticipate signing up for more as we continue to meet the needs of our healthcare system and evolving needs of our community. In the last three days 35 Call Center spots have been filled by students, 60 spots will be filled next week. 50 additional students have offered their time to help meet the needs of faculty and staff. As I prepare to Match tomorrow, I am reminded how far my classmates and I have already come. We are serving a critical need for our healthcare center, supporting our educators and institution that have helped us get to where we are today. Thank you all for helping us grow into the physicians we will be; ones that pitch in, help each other, and feel empowered to contribute in trying times.

Liz Southworth is a 4th year medical student at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. She recently matched at the University of Michigan in Obstetrics and Gynecology. As the Vice Chair of the Committee on Medical Education for the AMA Medical Student Section, she continues to support her medical student colleagues across the country as changes occur to medical education during the coronavirus pandemic.

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