To no one’s surprise, medical students “have the same instincts as any other health care provider,” said Joshua Hanson, M.D., M.P.H., “and that’s to run in when others run away.” 

 Dr. Hanson, associate dean for student affairs in the Long School of Medicine, was referring to the number of medical students who have volunteered in various ways during the pandemic. Many Long School of Medicine students are answering calls on a community hotline for COVID-19 questions. The call center is located at San Antonio Metropolitan Health District’s epidemiology building on Brooks City Base. 

 A lot of this was really student driven. They had the time, effort and energy to respond. They came to us wanting to help,” said Barbara Taylor, M.D., M.S., associate dean of the M.D./M.P.H. program. After putting out a survey gauging student interest, Dr. Taylor had a team of 40 students to staff the hotline. “And they are handling this whole thing with grace and professionalism, it’s really impressive. 

student answering phone
Long School of Medicine student answers calls at San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

Safety measures dictate that medical students cannot come into direct contact with patients during this time, removing all students from their clinical roundsBut the hotline is an opportunity for students to contribute. 

 As a thirdyear student especially, it’s hard to be removed from the clinical setting and taking care of patients every dayThis is a wonderful opportunity to still be doing something,” said Delaney Rawson, one of the team leads of the student volunteers. 

 In collaboration with the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, student teams trade off six-hour shifts covering a hotline dedicated to epidemiology and questions about COVID-19. The original intent of the hotline was for health care providers and hospice centers in need of information about the ever-changing protocols or referrals for testing. However, the line quickly became a major resource for the community at large. Questions range from general quarantine inquiries such as how to manage symptoms and criteria for testing, to insurance and compliance concerns.  

 Although most of the questions can be fairly straightforward, the calls can be challenging. The students deal with callers who are angry, frustrated and desperate. 

 Sometimes we get people who call that are super appreciative, and some where they are really angry and yelling at us,” said third-year medical student and team lead Mitch Parma. “We have to provide a lot of education and a lot of comfort, too. 

 The challenge is decidedly worth it for these medical students. While the pandemic has caused a major disruption in the students’ academic routine, the hotline has provided not only an opportunity to help the community, but also a very unique perspective during this historic global event. 

 “In a way, it’s a privilege to be at the forefront and bear witness to how it affects people,” Parma saidWe’re told to stay homebut with the hotline we can see just how much it’s really affecting people. It’s going to be formative for this generationThis next batch of doctors will have that shared experience, and it will inform how we practice in the future.”