Holding Back a Flood: Students Organized to Bring Personal Protective Equipment to the Front Lines : Academic Medicine

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Trainee-Authored Letters to the Editor

Holding Back a Flood: Students Organized to Bring Personal Protective Equipment to the Front Lines

Pendergrast, Tricia Rae1

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Academic Medicine 96(7):p 944, July 2021. | DOI: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004027
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To the Editor:

There is a folktale about a young boy who spots a crack in the dike protecting his village in the Netherlands from terrible flooding and rushes to put his finger over the leak. He stays out all night in the cold, alone, with his finger over the crack in the dike. He calls out for help again and again, and, eventually, people in the village come to his aid and make the necessary repairs. The village is saved.

GetMePPEChicago, a student-led organization that I cofounded, is one node in network of student volunteer groups that together have sourced and donated more than 3,000,000 units of personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2020, independent PPE sourcing efforts led by medical students popped up across the United States as we reacted on the same instinct to prevent our village from flooding. Instead of waiting alone in the cold as we called for help, we began repairing the crack ourselves. We created spaces for unity and camaraderie, held video calls late into the night, and educated ourselves on the science behind PPE, supply chain management, marketing, and fundraising. Our group recruited a pilot to fly PPE from New York to Chicago. We coordinated motorcyclists to move masks across the Midwest. We delivered more PPE supplies to the Navajo Nation than the federal government did. Our movement had momentum. It was fueled by hope. Strangers became friends. Peers educated each other. For a while, this solidarity softened the blows of a global crisis until it did not.

I have spent 12 months with my finger over the crack in the dam, trying to prevent a flood and waiting for GetMePPEChicago to be replaced by official efforts to ensure health care and essential workers have adequate PPE. There is not a day that goes by that I do not wonder how this responsibility fell to medical students. Why is providing essential protective equipment to nursing home residents, veterans, people experiencing homelessness, disabled people, and “health care heroes” still not a priority? Once we get through this crisis, we need to discuss why it fell to students to prevent the village from flooding.

For now, I will be here with my finger over the crack in the dam.

Copyright © 2021 by the Association of American Medical Colleges