‘We wanted to do something’: UBC students volunteer their time to fight against COVID-19

Health care professionals working on the front lines of the health care system are getting help from UBC students whose classes and rotations have been suspended due to COVID-19.

The initiative began with a group of medical students who were told that they could no longer practice in hospitals and clinics due to the increased risk of transmission within public facilities. “It felt frustrating being a medical student and not being able to contribute on the front lines,” explained Vivian Tsang — a third-year medical student, “It is very unsettling, and we wanted to do something.”

Tsang and other classmates — Zach Sagorin, Geoffrey Ching, Morgan Haines, Devon Mitchell, and Alec Yu — acknowledged that there is a good reason for students not to be on the front lines at the moment considering they are not fully trained. However, they found other opportunities to contribute.

Since Tuesday, with more than 600 student volunteers who have come forward, the students have matched over 200 to support workers across the province.

“We are very flexible. We can do personal errands, childcare, pick up medications,” said Tsang. “There’s also data entry at research facilities, contact tracing for people who have been identified and negative contact — calling screen negative people to let them know that they are negative.”

The services apply to people with weakened immune systems too.

“We now have prescription drop off service for people who are immunocompromised, to be able to pick up medications for them and drop them off at their house.”

The process involves a form for doctors and organizations to fill out to request a volunteer. After they submit it, one of the coordinators match them with a student. Volunteer hours are capped at 15 hours per week and are not meant to replace regular supports but to “lend a helping hand.”

“Within the first 24 hours of launching, we had over 40 requests. We now have over 100 requests in just five days of launching,” she said.

The initiative has grown since its implementation, as others at UBC — including students from nursing, public health, dentistry and midwifery — have joined the medical students for a university-wide scale up. Using a toolkit that Tsang and the other founders created, students have been able to use the same process for recruiting volunteers and matching them with organizations.

“It is much more empowering for other disciplines to have a tool of their own to reach out to people in their professions,” she explained. “Nursing students can reach out to nurses and dentistry to dentists. Everyone has their project and retains their autonomy. It’s amazing to see everyone step up.”

The response from doctors and organizations has been overwhelming, according to her.

“It’s very meaningful and I just really see our impact,” Tsang recounted. “The community is coming together. I know that students are doing everything they can, despite not being able to be on the front line to help.

“I think this is definitely going to be a point in my career journey that I will look back on and remember that I wasn’t sitting back and hanging out, but that I chose to be actively engaged, to be messy, and challenged.”