Written by Hillary Danis ’21
I have volunteered and worked in EMS for my entire adult life. Many of my friends are part of the Vermont emergency services community. Being part of that team is the greatest honor I can imagine. When it became clear that COVID-19 was reaching pandemic level and that it would inexorably affect the healthcare system, I watched my colleagues spring into action. Ambulance services across the county prepared for a patient surge by upstaffing and rapidly adjusting to new PPE and decontamination standards, all while providing the same high-level care to patients and their loved ones. Selfless people continued to report to their volunteer and work shifts, willing to risk their own health to care for their patients.
As a medical student, I felt stuck. My classmates and I had just completed our clerkship year and were ready to transition to a higher level of clinical responsibility. Although we needed to ensure safety and comply with directives from national governing bodies that limited the ability of medical students to be involved in direct patient care, I wanted to do something. There had to be a way for me and my classmates to positively impact the lives of patients and other healthcare providers. I reached out to Dr. Tim Lahey, professor of medicine and director of clinic ethics, and Dr. Nathalie Feldman, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and director of the learning environment, to see what they knew about the field hospital for UVM Medical Center being set up at the Patrick Gymnasium and if there was a possible medical student role. They directed me to Kevin Brochu, PA, one of the providers helping to get the field hospital up and running.
We had a huge number of Larner students indicate that they wanted to be involved at the field hospital – more than seventy to date, from all four classes. Our role was to help set up the clean supply area of the facility and to develop supply chain procedures that would allow for the safe delivery of crucial supplies to the patient care area. The Patrick Gymnasium can house up to 100 patients if other UVM Medical Center resources reach surge capacity. Thus far, the site has not needed to be activated, but the team of student volunteers is ready to staff the supply area 24/7 to keep operations moving effectively. Although we hope that we will not be needed, we are prepared if called upon.
Helping to organize this volunteer opportunity and other initiatives as part of the LCOMCares Service Corps Task Force has given me a sense of purpose as a medical student. It was difficult to feel like I was on the sidelines while others in the healthcare profession were risking their health and wellbeing to care for patients. Everybody has a role to play, though, as we navigate this unprecedented challenge. Medical students have, can, and will positively impact lives during the COVID-19 pandemic.