On Friday, March 13, my medical school canceled our classes.
I remember looking at the screen for a full minute, then searching for a loophole — can we volunteer in the clinics? — before concluding there wasn’t one. As a third-year medical student, everything seemed to have fallen away — Step 2 CS, away rotations, a planned infectious disease rotation in Thailand — with nothing in its place. Nothing can be frightening, but it can also be an opportunity.
During medical school, I have become increasingly aware of how childcare needs put pressure on parents — especially women — in medicine. I have seen my peers struggle to balance didactic or clinical responsibilities with the needs of their families, and that’s just with the usual demands of training. In a pandemic, with multiple school and day care closures, it’s completely unworkable.
Working with other medical students at Oregon Health & Science University, and with others all across the country, we have developed an initiative designed to match students with health care workers in a longitudinal one-to-one relationship to adhere to social distancing guidelines and provide necessary services such as childcare, petsitting, and errands. The initiative is still growing and changing into its final form, and it’s too early to say what that will be, but it has already helped our health care workers feel supported and made our community stronger.
Here are a few tips for anyone who would like to develop a similar initiative at their institution:
- Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the good. Your efforts will invariably not be perfect and people will offer criticism and advice. The important thing is getting something started at all; it can always be perfected later.
- Build opportunities to grow the leadership team as part of your initial efforts. Projects like this can grow quickly and require more people rapidly.
- Be aware of ways you can link with parallel or preexisting efforts. Connect with local organizations early and let them know what your plans are.
- No task is beneath you, but someone else may be able to do it better. We do what we can and what’s needed, not always what we want. At the same time, there are experts in these areas, and it may help to consult them.
- Don’t forget the lessons learned in a crisis. Your institution can be better prepared for the next one, and may be able to turn your efforts into a more streamlined infrastructure for the future. When this is all over, we must continue our work to shore up these vulnerabilities and be better prepared for the next crisis.