Monday, April 20, 2020
More than 90 medical students in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine are volunteering to babysit and pet sit for VCU health care workers, such as doctors, nurses, residents, fellows and others directly helping patients.
The volunteers are members of a new student organization called the VCU Childcare Co-op that is aiming to support health care workers who are serving on the front line against COVID-19.
“So far, our volunteers have helped more than 20 families, and together, we have donated more than 250 hours in total in caring for the children of our health care workers,” said Annie Yang, a VCU medical student in the class of 2023 and co-founder of the organization.
As classes transitioned online in early March, the students “all felt the jolt of reality and realized how serious this pandemic has hit our own community,” she said. While adhering to social distancing guidelines, they wanted to find ways to help.
“As medical students we have already been working closely with the health care professionals, and naturally, we thought about relieving the burden of our health care workers first,” Yang said. “As we began to contact a few faculty members at VCU, we quickly realized that there was an urgent need for child care as many child care services began to close, and that’s when we knew that we need to build this organization and build it as quickly as possible.”
The students are using spreadsheets and forms to match families with volunteers based on location, special needs and “extra-help needs” such as homework and hobbies.
“It takes a lot of hard work to coordinate and finesse the organization,” Yang said. “But we are constantly encouraged by our providers with their kind words for our service.”
A note from a VCU Health nurse thanked three student volunteers who babysat her and her husband’s two daughters.
“They were incredibly kind and motivated to help out in whatever way they could!” the nurse wrote. “Although I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting them face to face, all my husband could keep repeating was, ‘these are good people, they are so nice!’ I'm encouraged by the fortunate glimpse I have been able to see of our future doctors!”
Peter F. Buckley, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine, interim CEO of VCU Health System and senior vice president for VCU Health Sciences, praised the medical students for selflessly helping out amid the crisis.
“We are so very proud of our medical students and their response and compassion during this COVID-19 crisis,” Buckley said.
As medical students we have already been working closely with the health care professionals, and naturally, we thought about relieving the burden of our health care workers first. As we began to contact a few faculty members at VCU, we quickly realized that there was an urgent need for child care as many child care services began to close.
The idea to provide child care for VCU health care workers originated with VCU medical student Gaby Obedoza, who suggested it in her class group chat in early March.
“I wanted to start something like the VCU Childcare Co-op because I was frustrated with how little I felt that we were able to contribute to the COVID-19 response efforts,” Obedoza said. “With the move to online courses and the cessation of clinical rotations, I felt like this was simply an extended spring break for many people when, in reality, we're entering a service profession aimed at helping people. I wanted to utilize our newly gained free time to give back to our health care providers through a mutual aid project.”
She added that she saw other medical schools were having their students take part in child care programs, and it would be great to do something similar at VCU.
“With the schools ordered closed for the remainder of the year, I felt that this would be something that our own VCUHS providers could benefit from,” she said. “It also allows us as preclinical medical students to render a much-needed service in our community so that providers can focus on their work.”
Obedoza and Yang connected with Marieka A. Helou, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine, who provided them with information about COVID-19, available resources and helped spread the word that the students were available.
“At the end of the day, we simply want to help,” Yang said.
In addition to Obedoza and Yang, the group is led by a team of admins: VCU medical students Allie Dennis, Jin Kim, Agi Kumar, Kim Ngo and Sam Kraus.
“I want to thank all the extraordinary VCU medical students who have donated their precious time to care for the children of our health care workers,” Yang said. “Finally, I want to tell all the front-line health care workers that they’re so courageous and selfless, and we as medical students are here to support them whenever they need us!”
For more information or to contact the VCU Childcare Co-op, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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