As the second surge of the COVID-19 pandemic struck the Inland Empire region in mid-December, Riverside University Health Systems (RUHS) and Riverside Community Hospital (RCH) found themselves facing staff and physician shortages and put out a call for help.
UCR School of Medicine students answered the call.
Just 24 hours after RUHS and RCH reached out to Associate Dean of Graduate Medical Education and Designated Institutional Official Robby Gulati, M.D. to ask if there was anything that the School of Medicine could do, 18 UCR School of Medicine third- and fourth- year medical students had stepped up to volunteer, even going so far as to put together a comprehensive schedule that included shifts, both day and night, between December 24 and January 3.
Gulati worked with UCR SOM class representatives Sana Hadyah and Morcel Hamidy to find students who were willing to volunteer for 7-to-10 hour shifts in both clinical and non-clinical roles.
Gulati and the students coordinated with Daniel Kim, M.D., the designated institutional official at RUHS and clinical professor and Internal Medicine Program director at the UCR SOM, Nikki Mittal, D.O., a pulmonary critical care doctor at RUHS and an assistant clinical professor and assistant director in the UCR Internal Medicine Residency Program, Gregory Guldner, M.D., director of the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at RCH and an associate clinical professor at the UCR SOM, and Ahmed El-Bershawi, M.D., director of the Intensive Care Unit at RCH and associate clinical professor at the UCR SOM.
"I was so impressed and grateful that the students were so organized," Mittal said. " After a quick, one-hour orientation over Zoom, they jumped right in and were ready to do any task needed."
"Our students volunteered to do what was needed during their time of need," Gulati said. "Sometimes it meant turning patients to optimize oxygenation, running to the blood bank to get blood for patients, dropping off labs, or whatever else needed to be done."
"The students were of great help to our operation. They were team players, willing to roll up their sleeves to help. They were inspiring and their morale was high," El-Bershawi said. "It is a pleasure to have our future colleagues come to help at the time of need."
With patients' families unable to visit their loved ones, the students also connected patients with loved ones electronically through Zoom calls and phone calls.
Third-year medical student Sawyer Schuljak volunteered at both RUHS and RCH, performing a variety of jobs.
"Each day was different, as each day presented its own unique needs," he said. "I saw comradery between residents, attending physicians, and nurses. Everyone was there for each other and it felt great to be a part of that team and environment."
"Even though what we were all going through was difficult and hard, we were able to lift each other up," he added. "Even if it was a small joke to get people to smile or someone bringing in homemade cookies, the little things really brought some light into an otherwise dark time."
Justine Ku, a third-year student, said she was moved to serve her community, but it wasn't until she began her service that she understood the full gravity of what she was facing.
"When I first stepped into the ICU and pulled up the inpatient list, every single patient on the service was a COVID patient in critical condition," she said.
"It is heartbreaking to see patients working their hardest to take a breath, fighting for their lives," she added. "As a medical student, I cannot do very much, but I know I can do what students do best: learn. If I can learn from this situation, if I can assist our heroes in the hospital in some small way, or hold a patient’s hand in isolation, then for me, it was a day well spent."
"Each generation of doctors face some defining moment in their medical career," Guldner said. "The students of UCR SOM faced their defining moment in 2020. The UCR students volunteering in the emergency room, at a time that is our D-Day on the war on COVID, showed the courage and dedication to our community that we have always seen from UCR students."
Student volunteers included:
MS3's: Tin Dinh, John 'Milo' Dover, Cesar Fortuna, Sana Hadyah, Morcel Hamidy, Skyler Harrison, Manparbodh Kaur, Justine Ku, Clifton Lee, Brandon Phong, Sawyer Schuljak, and Margaret Yau.
MS4's: Khoi Bach, Mohsin Baghchechi, Asha Dasika, Julius Daniels, Katherine Domenici, and Nikita Kadakia.
Aguilar, Students Donate Socks to Seniors and Youths in Need
For several years, Clinical Affiliate Relationship Manager KA Aguilar has been raising donations from friends and family to provide socks to those in need over the holidays. This year, Aguilar worked with Dr. Rebeca Gavan, M.D. to get medical students involved and increase the impact of the donation.
Gavan challenged students in the School of Medicine House Program to compete against each other to see who could bring in the most socks.
About 180 pairs of socks were donated to the Reche Canyon Rehabilitation & Health Care Center for their patient population. Aguilar became aware of the needs of the patients at the center when she met with Kamal Kejriwal, M.D., a geriatric physician from Kaiser Permanente Fontana who does occasional rounds with UCR SOM students at the center.
"The director was very thankful that we thought to give gifts to those who have been so isolated due to COVID," Aguilar said. "You have no idea how meaningful a simple pair of socks can be to someone who feels as if they have been forgotten."
In addition, 50 pairs of white athletic socks and 50 black socks were donated to Operation Safe House, an emergency shelter, intervention, and outreach service for youths in crisis.
Students Brighten the Holiday for Coachella Valley Families
Student leaders and promotores from the Center for Health Disparities Research (HDR@UCR) worked with Ann Cheney, Ph.D. to donate gifts to individuals and families in Latinx farm working communities in the eastern Coachella Valley.
The outreach effort provided gifts to 35 families in 115 children.
SOM students who organized and led the event included Cynthia Beltran Sanchez (pictured in the Santa Claus costume), Ursula Simonoski, Victoria Gutierrez, and Alma Esparza Castaneda.