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CMSRU students lend a virtual hand during COVID-19 pandemic

Students from Cooper Medical School of Rowan University (CMSRU) have established CMSRU Student COVID19 Action Alliance to lend a virtual hand to fellow health care professionals, and the Camden community, during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

In mid-March, the Governor of New Jersey issued an Executive Order mandating strict social distancing policies to help flatten the COVID-19 curve and prevent further spread of the virus. This led to the suspension of clinical rotations for CMSRU students and classes being moved online. However, CMSRU students figured out how to continue being engaged in service-learning, albeit remotely.

“The resiliency, creativity and altruism of our medical students is truly remarkable,” notes Annette C. Reboli, MD, dean of CMSRU. “They didn’t let this extremely difficult situation discourage them from asking ‘In what ways can I still help?’, and then finding innovative means to make it happen. We now have students working on a range of initiatives that are directly assisting the dedicated health care providers at our clinical partner, Cooper University Health Care, and the community at large.”

Last month, as CMSRU’s faculty and staff were working on new methods for delivering its curriculum, CMSRU third year student Lauren Burgoon was brainstorming with classmates on ways they could assist the clinicians on the frontlines, and support the Camden community. Burgoon helped coordinate CMSRU Student COVID19 Action Alliance and worked with CMSRU’s Office of Student Affairs to track the various projects, and who was involved.   

“So much changed so fast and so completely in all our lives, and it's easy to feel helpless as we watch the toll of the pandemic. But we're not helpless,” said Burgoon. “As students, we have the time to step back and look at the needs in the hospital and community that we can help with, and try to fill the gaps. I cannot be in the clinic or hospital right now, but I can support those who are.”

Some of the student-led projects include: creating face shields for hospital staff; collaborating with Rowan University engineering faculty and graduate students to design and 3D-print reusable masks; acquiring PPE donations from local businesses for donation to the hospital; sewing masks; setting up virtual visits with seniors and others in assisted living; arranging a Red Cross Blood Drive; distributing SwipeSense badges to every hospital employee to track COVID-19 exposure; and helping to organize CritiCall Connections, a program to assist with communication to hospitalized patients' families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attending CMSRU has prepared students to approach difficult issues with a sense of purpose, notes Burgoon. “As students in Camden, we see first-hand the very real issues of access to medical care, disparities, poverty, homelessness and other enormous societal issues. We cannot solve these ourselves, but we can be – and we are – part of the movement working toward change. We have a part to play at every step of our medical education and training.”

The outcome of the CMSRU student projects illustrate their resolve. For example, frontline healthcare workers needed personal protection, and in just a few days, CMSRU students created 9,820 face shields for Cooper workers. The Red Cross announced a shortage of blood donations, and the students set up a blood drive event that had every appointment filled on the first day it was advertised. And in less than one week, CMSRU students, in collaboration with Rowan University engineering faculty and graduate students, developed, tested, manufactured and shared designs for a 3D-printed reusable facemask.

“Through this crisis, our medical students have truly been an inspiration,” adds Dr. Reboli. “They know how to respond to a challenge in positive and constructive ways.  We are seeing the genesis of the next generation of physician leaders, and I couldn’t be prouder.”