Medical Students & COVID-19: How You Can Help, Responsibly

Sahil Bharwani
Published on May 1, 2020. Updated on Sep 15, 2020.

Today on the Osmosis blog blog, Osmosis Medical Education Fellow Sahil Bharwani summarizes what medical students can do to help aid in the fight against COVID-19. He makes a case for why students should not go and volunteer on the front lines, how to help from home, how to use the self-isolation to your benefit, and what you can do for your family.

With the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic raging worldwide, many medical students are eager to help out as best as they can. Given the situation, helping out directly in hospital wards isn’t advisable. But there are opportunities to help while self-isolating at home!

Don’t run to an ER to “help.” Stay at home 

This is not an easy decision to make, as many of us in medical school are “run toward the fire” type of people. However, the best thing we can do is to self-isolate and prepare ourselves for the aftereffects of this pandemic. As medical students, our primary responsibility is to learn.  Skirting those responsibilities to go and “fight” COVID on the front lines would be reckless. It’s a tough decision to make, but it is the responsible choice for several reasons. 

  1. We have not learned enough medicine or skills to help efficiently. Hospitals are just trying to keep up with the huge influx of patients, many of which are in critical condition, while also determining who is infected and who is not. They do not have time to teach us and watch out for our well-being.

  2. There is not enough PPE for our healthcare providers to begin with. Providing PPE for medical students would just further strain the hospitals and take away vital PPE from providers.  

  3. Social distancing has been proven effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19. Being on the frontlines means having to quarantine yourself away from family, friends, and the general population. 

  4. Current medical students will be the future physicians of tomorrow. We need to be focused on what we can learn and apply in the future when we will be the attendings, hospital leadership, and public health officials. We can study this virus (and our collective) response from afar and prepare for when we will be on the frontlines.  

Find ways to help while self-isolating instead 

Just because you are self-isolating does not mean there is nothing you can do. There are several things you can volunteer doing that will help, while maintaining proper social distancing etiquette. Here are a few ideas my school is doing to help our local community:

Osmosis illustration of a homemade mask.

  1. Making washable masks for providers/patients to help ease the lack of PPE

  2. Online Tutoring

  3. Babysitting Children of healthcare workers

  4. Shopping for at-risk populations

  5. Various other online volunteer and research opportunities.

Osmosis illustration of a medical student leaving groceries with an older neighbor.

Lead by example

Social distancing is effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 (and other infectious diseases) but is not as widely adopted as it needs to be. People, especially our peers, are ignoring the guidelines set in place by public health officials. As future physicians, this is an invaluable time for us to lead by example. There are several ways one can do this, one of which is social media. Post photos of you having fun at home with your pets, cooking, exercising. Find ways to connect with friends that don’t require contact, like video chat wine and cheese nights, or watching a  movie together. Really, whatever activities you are doing at home doing this pandemic. Show your followers that social distancing can be cool and fun and encourage them to do it too. Additionally, if any of your friends or families are questioning the validity of social distancing, educate them on the matter and refer them to resources that show it works!

 Osmosis illustration of a medical student sharing social distancing activities on social media.

Optimize your routine (while making a little more time for you)

My school, along with most other schools, transitioned to Zoom to continue our lessons.  Once I adjusted to this unexpected change in my routine, I found that I suddenly had more time in the day. I can spend more time studying, exercising at home, and proper self-care. Maintaining a routine is a great way to stay sharp, and stay ready for transition back into normal life For some great self-care tips, check out this blog! 

More time is something we all wish for in medical school, so we should make the most of it. Take a minute to set a routine that incorporates exercise, diet, family time (via FaceTime!) and of course, studying.

Stay in touch (or reconnect) with family and friends.

Many of us have family members and friends who turn to us for medical advice during times like this. I have multiple family members who are classified as high risk for COVID-19, and so I’ve spent a lot of time educating them on the risks, spread, and prevention of the disease, as well as who to call if they start showing symptoms.

As medical students, we cannot yet treat or diagnose, but we can help our families understand the current situation. There is a lot of information out there about COVID-19, and it can be daunting to sift through. As medical students, we can help translate the information for our family and friends without a medical background. We can share with them resources that help explain the situation to them. It is important not to play doctor here! Our role is to help educate them and make them proactive agents of their own health. It is important for us to stay up to date with the progression of this disease, so we can provide accurate sources or information.

About Sahil

Sahil Bharwani is a OMS-I at Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine. Before matriculating to medical school, Sahil earned a Masters’ degrees in Public Health from Case Western Reserve University and Medical Sciences from the University of South Florida. He has worked jobs in the public health sector, conducting research at various levels, and primary patient care. For fun, Sahil paints, spends time with his cat, Aurora, meditates, listens to and mixes music, and reads. Sahil is undecided as to what specialty he wants to pursue at this moment, but knows he wants to be a great doctor first and foremost. 

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