In a Pandemic, Students Redefine What It Means To Be A Volunteer

In honor of National Volunteer Week, RVU spotlighted the incredible efforts of several students as they help their communities and those in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

Erin West, OMS III – Volunteer with CovidLine in Colorado

As a Director of Volunteer Services for CovidLine, Erin West, OMS III, oversees the recruitment, onboarding, training, and scheduling of volunteers. At times, she also fills in as a Clinical Assistant, a role like that of other RVU students who volunteer as MAs, scribes, and technology helpers. CovidLine, a project backed by the Innovation Response Volunteers and Clinica Colorado, focuses on bringing telehealth access to uninsured COVID-19 patients in Colorado.

“I wanted to get involved in helping [COVID-19] patients in whatever way I was able to,” said SD West. After signing up for telemedicine opportunities through the state, the Covidline team reached out to her, leading to her position on the leadership team. “I’ve been on nightly meetings and have been working together with the rest of the team to create the system and workflow, solve problems, and come up with creative solutions.”

The telehealth aspect of COVIDline has also been much appreciated in SD West’s home life. With her husband still seeing patients as a physical therapist, “I didn’t want to be out in the community bringing home extra exposures for his patients.”

Volunteering with COVIDline has taught SD West many things, especially in these challenging times. Skill-wise, she has learned to formulate systems, organize large groups of people, start new processes, communicate clearly, and work as part of a team. In her volunteer role, SD West has also gained a new perspective now that she’s found herself ‘on the other side of the curtain.’ “I’ve learned a ton of patience and respect for people who work within and try to set up medical systems. Politics, legal issues, technology logistics are all things that make the process much more complex than it sounds on the surface.” She’s also been inspired by the leaders of her project as they find creative solutions to problems that arise. “It’s amazing how many people are so willing and eager to help,” she said.

For those wanting to volunteer during what is an undeniably unprecedented time, SD West recommends taking the initiative, especially as systems are still being developed to connect those who want to help to those in need. “This is not traditional volunteering where you step into a clearly defined role that is stable and [static],” so students should prepare to be leaders and innovators in the days ahead. “We need to be adaptable. If you see a need, become the way to meet that need,” says SD West. Whether it’s creating volunteer opportunities or just reaching out to others with words of encouragement, “there is still a lot we can do for our communities.”

Bradley McCann, OMS III – Volunteer with the Doctors’ Volunteer Clinic of St. George

For Bradley McCann, OMS III, one of the most challenging aspects of volunteering as a scribe for the Doctors’ Volunteer Clinic of St. George has been switching over to telehealth appointments for patients. Despite this sudden change in healthcare delivery, “it has been a unique experience helping and meeting with patients from their homes. You get a more in-depth view on who they are as a person and not just as a patient.”

While volunteering with the Doctors’ Volunteer Clinic, SD McCann has seen the clinic quickly adapt to the current coronavirus situation to continue helping their patients. “They do good work serving a population in need,” he says. “Many of the doctors are volunteers [who have put themselves] at risk to COVID-19.”

SD McCann’s advice for those looking for ways to volunteer is to reach out to acquaintances and to ask local clinics for what unique opportunities they have available for students.

Hayden Collins, OMS III – Volunteer with CovidLine in Colorado

As stay-at-home orders were implemented and the number of COVID-19 cases climbed, one of the first courses of action for health clinics and medical practices around the nation was to quickly implement or switch over to telehealth services. Such measures have introduced third-year students like Hayden Collins, OMS III, to an alternative to cancelled clinical rotations. Instead of seeing patients under the supervision of a preceptor, students assist with setting up telehealth appointments.

With CovidLine, the free hotline launched by the non-profit Clinica Colorado, SD Collins has had the opportunity “to collaborate with other medical professionals to provide free telehealth visits to the uninsured.” He is currently the Director of Technology Training and is responsible for training volunteer physicians and clinical assistants (medical students) on how to navigate the communication platform and EMR, as well as researching and implementing new software to streamline CovidLine’s workflow.

“The most challenging aspect of volunteering [for CovidLine] was the weeks-delay of our program launch,” said SD Collins. “We had a series of political and legal hurdles that cast doubts as to whether CovidLine was feasible.” After brainstorming ways to strengthen the program (and countless Zoom meetings), the program officially launched on Thursday, April 23rd.

For SD Collins, the experience with CovidLine has underscored the significant and growing role of telemedicine in expanding access to healthcare services for underserved populations. It’s also “[reinforced] my appreciation for the process of teaching others and an aptitude in one of my non-clinical skillsets.”

One of most frustrating things for students has been finding volunteer opportunities during the pandemic. To those who are still searching, SD Collins recommends networking with classmates and friends “to find a project or cause that excites you. It may not seem like it right now, [but] there are lots of different opportunities to get involved in serving your community.”

Colorado residents can access CovidLine by calling locally at 720-902-9449 or toll-free at 1-855-963-3721.

Jordan Eatough, PAS II – Volunteer with the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds Multi-Agency Taskforce

Emergency management and disaster relief have always been of interest to Jordan Eatough, PAS II. When the opportunity arose to work on a multi-agency taskforce to establish an alternate care facility for Tier 4 COVID-19 patients, he was one of the first volunteers from RVU onsite. At the Arapahoe County Fairgrounds, Jordan and several other RVU students helped the Arapahoe County Sherriff’s Department, South Metro Fire Department, and the Colorado National Guard design and set up a 54-bed temporary facility/field hospital.

According to Jordan, while the patients that will be seen at this facility do not need care in an in-patient setting, they may not have adequate living arrangements where they can recover. For that reason, the facility will include individual guest ‘cubicles’, dining facilities, a day/rec room, restrooms, showers, and medical equipment. Jordan and the other students also helped organize resources to transition to a 150-bed facility for Tier 3 patients should it be necessary. The students also helped the taskforce prioritize the right medical equipment and researched protocols pertinent to the treatment of COVID-19.

As a proponent of interprofessional collaboration, Jordan was impressed with how the taskforce brought different groups, organizations, and agencies together. “It has been fascinating to learn from [each agency’s] organizational skills and available resources to quickly make incredible things happen in a time of need,” said Jordan. In turn, Jordan also taught the other volunteers about what exactly a physician assistant can do and about the PA profession in general.

While the current pandemic has sidelined student doctors and physician assistant students from their rotations, Jordan states that volunteer opportunities such as these have provided a meaningful way to contribute to the current pandemic. “I have found that service brings people together in a way not possible through other educational activities or interactions.” At the end of the day, this opportunity reinforced why he chooses to volunteer: “It truly makes me happy and helps remind me of the things that matter most to me in life. Service helps bring balance to life.”

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