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COVID-19 weekly update 04/02: med students making a difference

As the country navigates a crucial week in the struggle against COVID-19, medical students and health professionals across the country are stepping up to help, whether it’s volunteering to screen patients, do lab work and research, collect supplies, or simply offering babysitting services and grocery delivery to overworked doctors and nurses. There are opportunities for you to help, too. Below you’ll find a summary of initiatives going on from coast to coast, either initiated by med students or looking for med student help.

And don’t forget, if you know of an individual, organization, or program that needs help, let us know and we can help to spread the word.

UPDATE: 04/01

To address the global shortage of medical supplies – PPEs in particular – students at the University of Ottawa are collecting donations of surgical masks (with or without face-shields), N95 masks, gloves, gowns, booties, goggles, disinfectant wipes, hand sanitizers, and viral swab kits (with the Universal Transport Medium). Any local research labs, distilleries, dental offices, nail salons, vet clinics, physiotherapy clinics – or anyone else who might have these items on hand – can contact or else visit the group’s Facebook Page for details. 

The consult liaison at the Ottawa General Hospital’s psychiatry service is looking for med students who can phone patients to coordinate and schedule video assessments. This would be Monday to Friday, 9-5, and would require you to call patients and help them download the video conference application and tell them how to start the interview. You can contact Dr. Lyndal Petit to get details.

You can now join a Canada-Wide Mailing List for anyone with lab/diagnostic skills who can help with COVID-19 testing in public health labs. This includes skills such as: extraction, PCR testing, review requisitions, validation, whole genome sequencing, as well as anyone willing to roll up their sleeves and fill gaps both scientific and non-scientific. If you have previous lab experience and can help, please contact Melissa Phuong or visit the volunteer sign-up page.

Likewise, a Public Health resident from uOttawa is looking for med students interested in supporting the COVID-19 public health response in Ontario by doing literature searches and summaries to help answer important questions. If you want to help but are unable to volunteer in-person, this might be ideal for you. Contact Dr. Tiffany Locke for more details.

Med students at the University of Toronto have started an initiative to help seniors in their area. So far, they’ve recruited more than 200 volunteers to regularly call socially isolated seniors in order to provide comfort and education about the COVID-19 pandemic. They are currently expanding this program to seven other Canadian faculties. This nationally coordinated response is called the Student Senior Isolation Prevention Partnership and you can learn about it on their website.

Ottawa Inner City Health is looking for med students to work at the isolation centre for Ottawa’s homeless population. They are currently training peers to work at the center in the event that current employees are unable to due to illness. Tasks would include being responsible for traffic in and out of the centre, taking patient vitals, managing administration of medications, etc. The employed medical students would work on non-isolation units in the centre. Contact Maryam Bezzahou for details.

The Pediatric Emergency Physician Group is creating a small team to help stay on top of the tidal wave of clinical care information coming from new studies and research about COVID-19. Their goal: to evaluate new evidence and curate information to see if it should be incorporated into their Emergency Management plan. They will be creating a synopsis email every few days to share with emergency physicians, community pediatricians, and family medicine colleagues.

After Mayor Jim Watson declared an emergency in the City of Ottawa, the public Health Service has estimated that they require up to 800 people to help with contact tracing, which involves speaking to patients over the phone in order to find out where they've been, who they've seen while infectious, and communicate which measures they need to take. You can fill out the volunteer form, or contact Yipeng Ge for details.

A pair of second-year med students from Schulich, the hosts and producers of the Multipotent M.D. podcast, recently released a 2-part episode that offers a comprehensive resource on the history of COVID-19, the epidemiology, the concepts of “social distancing” and “flattening the curve,” how people can take care of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally during quarantine, and also how medical students can get involved in the community. You can check out the two-part episode here and here.

And one last thing: do you have an uplifting story from the front lines of Canadian health care that you’d like to share? Or maybe you just want to read one? Check out the CMA’s COVID Kindness page to see positive stories from across the country.

UPDATE: 03/25

As the situation with COVID-19 continues to evolve, both at home and abroad, only one thing is certain: this global pandemic is very quickly changing the way we go about our daily lives. The health care system is preparing itself for an influx of new patients; particular provinces are opening up alternative testing centres and ramping down the number of elective surgeries and other non-emergent clinical activities.

And, in the midst of it all, perhaps no other group is feeling the pressure more than health care professionals. Not only are they working longer and more intensive hours, but they are much more likely to be exposed to carriers of the virus than anyone else. And, while doing all of this, they still have to manage social distancing and school closures like the rest of us.

Thankfully, people in communities across the country are stepping up to help in any way that they can. And that includes students at all Canadian medical faculties across the country.

Med students and nursing students at the University of Toronto have self-organized to offer support with life tasks to local health care workers (HCPs), covering everything from grocery and pharmacy runs, to child and pet care. Students at the University of Ottawa have done the same. To maintain social distancing and minimize the risk of spread, each of these initiatives will match student volunteers with only one family, and will limit volunteers to those students who have not recently travelled and are not personally at-risk

At McGill University, a similar support initiative has been established—and this one is unique in that it applies to any and all Montreal-area health professionals and students, including those in dentistry, dietetics, human nutrition, kinesiology and exercise science, nursing, occupational therapy, optometry, pharmacy, physical therapy, social work, speech-language pathology, child-life educators—and, of course, medicine.

Students at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry have also volunteered to help health-care providers in London, Ontario. “As Schulich Medicine students, we feel that we have been trained to be leaders in our communities,” a representative for the initiative said. “And though we are not yet physicians, we have an opportunity to support our colleagues. Safety and ethics are our top priorities and we will be implementing a number of measures to preserve social distancing and minimize risk.” They have created a detailed policy in consultation with local public health experts and received pro bono assistance from a local law firm in the development of their waivers. “We are thankful to the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS) for liaising with medical schools across the country, and we applaud our fellow medical students who are organizing in their communities.” To learn more about how Schulich med students are helping, check out their Twitter feed, or reach out directly at:

In Northern Ontario, more than 50 of NOSM’s 250 med students have volunteered their time to help health care professionals in their region, and, at the same time, have started to make mock N-95 Respirators for practice purposes. Taking respirators on and off properly is an essential skill and having mocked-up versions allows practice to be performed without wasting the real things. So far, NOSM students created more than 300 mock respirators for these purposes.

In Manitoba, 140 med students have been recruited to help out at the four access centres that are currently acting as COVID-19 screening sites, with nursing students volunteering to answer calls to Manitoba’s Health Links line.

We’ll continue to update you with more amazing examples of Canadian med students helping in this time of need. If you have similar stories that you’d like to share, or just want a bit of insight into what it’s like to be studying medicine during these strange and trying times, please reach out to us at and we can share your efforts with our nationwide med student community. Stay healthy, stay positive, stay kind, and stay safe!

Interested in where you can sign up to help in your area? Check out the links below:

Other schools coming soon!