On March 17, 2020, the Association of American Medical Colleges recommended the suspension of all direct patient contact responsibilities for medical students because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Given this change, medical students nationwide had to grapple with how and where they could fill the evolving needs of their schools’ affiliated clinical sites, physicians, and patients and the community.
At Harvard Medical School (HMS), student leaders created a COVID-19 Medical Student Response Team to: (1) develop a student-led organizational structure that would optimize students’ ability to efficiently mobilize interested peers in the COVID-19 response, both clinically and in the community, in a strategic, safe, smart, and resource-conscious way; and (2) serve as a liaison with the administration and hospital leaders to identify evolving needs and rapidly engage students in those efforts.
Within a week of its inception, the COVID-19 Medical Student Response Team had more than 500 medical student volunteers from HMS and had shared the organizational framework of the response team with multiple medical schools across the country. The HMS student volunteers joined any of the 4 virtual committees to complete this work: Education for the Medical Community, Education for the Broader Community, Activism for Clinical Support, and Community Activism.
The COVID-19 Medical Student Response Team helped to quickly mobilize hundreds of students and has been integrated into HMS’s daily workflow. It may serve as a useful model for other schools and hospitals seeking medical student assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic. Next steps include expanding the initiative further, working with the leaders of response teams at other medical schools to coordinate efforts, and identifying new areas of need at local hospitals and within nearby communities that might benefit from medical student involvement as the pandemic evolves.