UBC Okanagan medical students join provincial initiative to help

Medical students step up

When the COVID-19 crisis hit Canada, UBC Okanagan third year medical student Alex Monaghan knew he wanted to do more to help.

Now, he’s running the local chapter of a provincial initiative matching UBC medical students with frontline workers in need of extra assistance, donating PPE and connecting families. 

The student-led grassroots initiative started at UBC Vancouver, after students were pulled from their clinical rotations due to the global pandemic. 

"In the days immediately following that, a group of students from Vancouver quickly organized to form a central volunteer body to build a framework for the whole province of medical students to respond," says Monaghan. 

"Our efforts in Kelowna are an extension of that, addressing two main goals - number one is to provide physician assistance for those on the frontline, and number two is to address public health projects that will help in the effort against COVID in the central Okanagan." 

The first project - the physician assistance program - directly matches medical students with frontline healthcare workers with practical needs in this time, such as running groceries or needing childcare and assists them with that. 

SMP student Brian Hayes is one of the volunteers helping out by entertaining the busy 18-month old of a local physician working at Kelowna General Hospital, and says it's his way of giving back. 

"As individuals committed to providing care to the public, we have a strong desire to assist those on the front lines. Volunteering our time to support physicians with an inflated workload or help with projects such as contact tracing allows us to be engaged in the COVID-19 response."

The team's second project in PPE donation involves co-ordinating PPE donations from the community, 3D printing of face mask components for donation and co-ordinating with distilleries across the province to arrange hand sanitizer production. 

Thirdly, the family communication project some students are involved with takes donated devices and sets them up so palliative care patients in the hospital are able to connect with their families. 

About 70 students are involved in the UBCO group, including 30 actively involved in initiatives in the Central Okanagan and up to 40 able to be mobilized on future projects as needs arise.

The pool of volunteers are primarily Southern Medical Program students, says Monaghan, including representatives from each year group. 

He's very proud of his team and the time they’ve volunteered to support frontline physicians. 

"I think it’s a really cool extension of our attitudes as medical students, we want to help where we can. Usually that takes place in clinics or the hospital but we’ve had to translate that effort and motivation to help where we can in this practical way. It’s been quite a natural response of us to make in this time and I’m very impressed and proud of my colleagues who have stepped up. They’ve been very generous, they’ve taken lots of initiative and that’s just blown me away as I’ve been able to watch this.

"Some of these students who are engaging in volunteer efforts, they’re in first and second year and they still have lectures ongoing and they’ve been taking on these additional things on top of their classwork so that’s been really cool to see." 

If you’re a physician or other allied healthcare professional in the Okanagan and have a project or idea you’d like the help of medical student volunteers with, visit the website and place your request. 

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