In the chaotic first days of the pandemic, only one thing seemed certain: healthcare workers were about to take on a huge burden—and with schools cancelled and daycares closed, that burden seemed like it would be impossible to bear. But with classes and clinical rotations suspended at every medical school in Canada, medical students found themselves with an unexpected amount of time on their hands, and they found something just as unexpected to do with it.
Healthcare workers are among the many who can’t necessarily perform their jobs remotely, and while provincial emergency daycares helped alleviate the pressure, those services didn’t cover late evenings or early mornings, when many healthcare professionals are working. Inspired by a single tweet from a med student at Schulich in London, ON, groups of med students across the country began to mobilize themselves to provide support – and respite – for healthcare workers.
Knowing that these workers were facing taxing schedules that, beyond childcare, would make even the simplest day-to-day errands like grocery shopping and dog-walking virtually impossible, a group of students at McGill banded together to take on those responsibilities. The team consisting of four students – Zoe O’Neil, Laura Pinkam, Anne Xuan-Lan Nguyen, and Adamo Donovan – shared a sign-up form on March 24, seeking healthcare professionals who needed help, as well as student volunteers from healthcare professional programs to help them. They focused their efforts on pairing volunteers with professionals based on need, proximity, and language—ensuring that those who needed help were able to get exactly the kind of help they required.
The response was immediate—and overwhelming. More than 80 students from seven different universities volunteered their time and they received requests from more than 50 healthcare workers, culminating in more than 6+ submissions a day. For some volunteers, this meant something as simple as a few free hours in the evening, or as vital as being able to volunteer the full span of an extended shift. The initiative has had an overarching impact on more than just the student volunteers and healthcare workers they’re supporting, but also extends to the patients they care for as well. The continuity and quality of their care is being maintained by the support provided in this collective effort.
Proof of just how much a gesture of support like this means is evident in the grateful reactions the group has received from the healthcare community in Montreal and elsewhere. And given the tremendous response – which has given the group a sense of just how much healthcare students from a variety of professions want to help (and how much help is needed), they’re now exploring ways to expand the scope of their work, including supporting the Centre for Aging. They have already connected twelve student volunteers with multiple vulnerable older adults from the Centre. The students call them weekly as an intervention to combat social isolation.
The students who launched this initiative have since returned to their classes online, but continue to carry forward in hopes that they can find a balance between their long-term investments in medicine and the immediate, essential impact they’re able to make.